Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography: Blog https://www.dangomola.com/blog en-us (C)Dan Gomola dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Fri, 01 Jan 2021 21:15:00 GMT Fri, 01 Jan 2021 21:15:00 GMT https://www.dangomola.com/img/s/v-12/u261418170-o942152798-50.jpg Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography: Blog https://www.dangomola.com/blog 120 86 White-tailed Deer Favorites of 2020 https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2021/1/white-tailed-deer-favorites-of-2020 During the winter, I like to share by summer and fall White-tailed Deer photos.  Here is a small collection of my 2020 favorites chosen from my White-tailed Deer gallery.  

I found this doe and her fawn feeding in a field in early June.  I stayed far away so they could eat and not be afraid.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

By August, the first year fawns have lost their "baby face".  Their spots will fade somewhat but will remain until their winter coat grows in. 
White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

Also in August, a buck's antlers are beginning to take shape.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

This photo was made in early September.  You can see how much the fawn's coat is changing.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

In late August and early September, I am grateful to have a farm location that I have permission to set up in a blind to catch deer leaving the woods to feed in a soy bean field.  They love soy bean leaves.  I was shocked to see this beauty step out.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

"Hey ladies, my eyes are down here!"

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

Oh, I was really blessed this year.  I had two monster bucks in the same area.  When I told the landowner, he said "Don't worry, they will be gone by the time hunting season starts."  To tell you the truth, I only saw them in that spot one more time.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

The falling leaves of October signify the mating season is near.  I find it to be the best time to photograph a buck in the wild.  If they are on the scent of a doe or guarding a doe, they usually don't run as soon as they see you.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

Of course, that doesn't mean they will stand there forever either.  They are still a wild animal so camera settings need to be accurate all the time.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

I saw this same buck last year and he was a nine point.  This year he gained a point.  I can't always tell if I saw a buck before, but this guy's rack is unique in its width and short tines so there aren't many like him.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

Here are a couple doe I found bedded down in the early afternoon sun.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

This is definitely one of the nicest eight point bucks I found this year.  He was tough to photograph.  He was guarding a doe that was laying down between us.  He was wary of me and stayed up the hill in the thicker stand of trees.  He made one appearance and I got the shot.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 
I photographed this White-tailed Deer on the crest of a hill with the brightness of a cloudy sunset behind him. In addition to the silhouette, I like the detail of all the long hairs on the deer's face.
These "Deer Whiskers" are also known as vibrissae. These long hairs are located around a white-tailed deer’s mouth , nose, and eyes as seen in the close-up. Vibrissae are thought to provide a sense of touch, to help animals feel the presence of objects close to the mouth, nose, or eyes. These hairs seem to be common on animals that are somewhat nocturnal.
Vibrissae’s greatest importance to animals with an acute sense of smell may be to determine air movement. Perhaps they are used to “feel the air,” indicating from which direction a scent is coming, whether it’s that of a dangerous predator or a valuable food source.
White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

Here is a typical example of how a buck guards his doe.  She goes about her business laying down, eating, or on the move.  Meanwhile, he follows her wherever she goes.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

On November 5th, the rut was going strong in western Pennsylvania. I watched a buck follow a doe into thick woods on the side of a slope. The buck was paying attention to the doe but stopped briefly to look at me and I captured this moment when she tried to get his attention. After a few photos they went deeper into the woods and disappeared. 

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

I watched a ten point follow a doe into an opening near the woods.  She laid down and so did he.  I'm sure you can see her.  Can you find him?

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

The buck will walk just about anywhere for a doe while relying on natural instinct to keep him hidden from danger.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

After a doe walks through an area, the buck will lick either the doe or the ground where she urinated or defecated and inhales for several seconds, sometimes curling his top lip. The Jacob's gland enables him to detect the doe's scent that indicates if she is close or in estrous.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

This is the last photo I'll share in the photo essay.  I find many deer like to walk along a ridge which provides a challenge to photograph.  The bright sky sometimes washes out the background.  I was able to recover this one nicely.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

Thanks for checking out this photo essay.  If you want to see photos that I left out, you can check them out and more in my White-tailed Deer gallery

Take care and Happy New Year.

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) White-tailed Deer White-tailed Deer Rut https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2021/1/white-tailed-deer-favorites-of-2020 Fri, 01 Jan 2021 20:55:15 GMT
Big Bulls and Hot Cows in Elk Country https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2020/11/big-bulls-and-hot-cows-in-elk-country It's that time of year again.  I'd like to show you some of the photos I made during the elk rut season this year.  This year was a very different year in good and bad ways. 

Starting with the bad, the COVID-19 pandemic affected my visits to Elk County, Pennsylvania to photograph these great creatures during their mating season.  I didn't want to stay in a hotel and ate at very few restaurants.  I practiced social distancing with the people I spent time with and kept my distance from strangers.  It was more tiring than past years because of the extra travel but it was still a great season.

Now for the good.  The weather this year was as good as it gets for September.  Unlike the past couple years, the temperatures were closer to normal for a Pennsylvania September.  It was downright cold and frosty on some mornings.  The cool weather makes it better for photography because the elk tend to stay in the open longer in the morning and come out of the woods a little earlier in the afternoon.  Both providing better photo opportunities.

Let's get started with the photos...

The bull in this photo is an iconic bull people refer to as "Tippy".  Tippy got his nickname because of the way he carries his rack.  He always tilts it to the side as if one side was heavier than the other.  Until this year, Tippy has always been one of the dominant bulls that visitors enjoyed watching in the fields behind the Elk Country Visitor Center.  This year, he spent most of his time in the valley in fields along the Bennett Branch of Sinnemahoning Creek.  The iconic Tippy is getting old and has injuries but he is still a player when defending a harem (herd of females and calves).

PA Elk (Sep, 2020)PA Elk (Sep, 2020)

 

Myself, and other photographers, were puzzled as to why Tippy was spending time in the valley.  As the days toward October continued, we discovered many more elk were in the valley and very few, if any, were visiting food plots in higher locations.  Our conclusion to this mystery was availability of food.  After a very hot, dry summer in which the food plots and other vegetation didn't grow as well in higher locations, the valley was green and lush.

Okay, let's continue with the photos.  A common practice during the rut is for the bulls to scrape the ground and urinate on themselves.  This is an attractant to the females (elk cows).

PA Elk (Sep, 2020)PA Elk (Sep, 2020)

 

When a larger, stronger, more dominant bull elk is in control of his haram, there isn't much the young males can do except watch and learn.  Someday, they will have large racks and gather female elk into their own harem.

PA Elk (Sep, 2020)PA Elk (Sep, 2020)

 

People who watch White-tailed Deer in the fall will notice this familiar pose where they stretch their neck, curl their upper lip, and stand still only slightly moving their necks from side to side for 10, 20 seconds or longer. People will say, "It's lip curling!" Elk exhibit the same behavior. Why do they do that?

It's referred to as the Flehman Response, derived from the German verb "to curl". The animal has an extremely sensitive vomeronasal organ in the roof of their mouth and when air is sucked across it, they can detect individual scents like pheromones in a cow's urine to determine if they are ready to be breed. Of course, if no female is around they are probably smelling you.

PA Elk (Sep, 2020)PA Elk (Sep, 2020)

 

This bull is checking for the cow's receptiveness to be bred.  Her behavior indicates that she is not ready.  Perhaps she may be too young and not had her first estrus cycle yet.  He seems to understand her communication and is not aggressively pursuing her.

PA Elk (Sep, 2020)PA Elk (Sep, 2020)

 

Several elk cow are in estrus and the bull elk can sense that.  When more than one bull is in the area, a fight for dominance can break out.  Most of the time one of the bulls will realize they are not the stronger bull and break away from the fight but sometimes these fights end in death by goring.

Notice the mud that covers much of the body of these two bulls.  Bulls will find a hole filled with water and mud.  They also urinate in it, crawl in, and roll around like a dog on a dead groundhog.  He makes sure to get the smell under his chin and on his mane.  All this to attract the ladies.

PA Elk (Sep, 2020)PA Elk (Sep, 2020)

 

This big fella is a 10X11 (number of points on each side of his rack).  People refer to him as "The King" because of his ability to gather a herd and even steal cow elk from harems organized by other bulls, without confrontation.

PA Elk (Sep, 2020)PA Elk (Sep, 2020)

 

Bull Elk are very busy watching over their harem.  They lose weight and sleep trying to keep their harem together and ward off other bulls.

PA Elk (Sep, 2020)PA Elk (Sep, 2020)

 

This bull was busy raking his antlers through the weeds.  Rubbing their head in trees and other vegetation is a way to assert their dominance.  Sometimes, they emerge from the rub with a decoration on their antlers.

Notice the color of his antlers.  When the velvet is rubbed off in late August and early September the bone is white, the color of the tips in this photo.  They achieve the dark coloration by rubbing their rack in small trees, weeds, and evergreens.  The sap, acting as a dye,  darkens it.  The tips don't hit the dye as much as the main beam and tines leaving them near their original color.

PA Elk (Sep, 2020)PA Elk (Sep, 2020)

 

Here is a nice example of courting behavior.  Once the cow comes into heat, bulls will approach them in hopes to mate.  With antlers held high and tongue flicking, he is doing everything he can to win her over.  This cow apparently isn't ready to mate.   She is moving away holding her head low and weaving her neck side to side as if to say "stop".

PA Elk (Sep, 2020)PA Elk (Sep, 2020)

 

This is a typical posturing by the bull when he approaches cow elk he wants to mate.

PA Elk (Sep, 2020)PA Elk (Sep, 2020)

 

I'll end this story with a short video containing clips of some bull elk herding their harem and a few bulls, not ready for prime time, sparring as if they are casually testing their strength against peers.

2020 Elk Rut Benezette

 

I hope you enjoyed these photos from the 2020 elk rut in Pennsylvania.  At the time of this writing the rut is over and bulls have begun to gather in bachelor groups again.  Visitors to Benezette may find several large herds of cow elk, young bulls, and calves feeding in the fields.  Bull Elk, on the other hand, tend to stay close to food, water, and a place of security.  They most likely will not be found in open fields.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) American Elk Benezette https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2020/11/big-bulls-and-hot-cows-in-elk-country Sun, 22 Nov 2020 22:27:36 GMT
Unpredictable Pennsylvania Sparrows: Henslow's and Clay-colored https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2020/9/unpredictable-pennsylvania-sparrows-henslows-and-clay-colored Many wildlife photographers have a favorite subject.  Perhaps they have a specialty and stick with it all year.  I like to photograph anything that lives, even the little sparrows that we all see on a daily basis.  However, just as I've shown you with photos of warblers, those little birds may look the same when they are in the shadows and high up in a tree, but are very different when viewed in good light and close up.

Because of their subdued plumage, sparrows can be seem alike, even in good light.  This photo essay will focus on two species of sparrow; the Henslow's Sparrow and the Clay-colored Sparrow. 

The Henslow’s Sparrow has a preference for thick, weedy grasslands and wetlands. In Pennsylvania, it is hard to predict when you will see your next Henslow's Sparrow.  They may breed in an area one year and be non-existent the next year.  Reclaimed strip mines in western Pennsylvania have attracted regularly occurring populations in recent years.

Henslow's SparrowHenslow's Sparrow

 

The Henslow's Sparrow spends most of its time running through the dense brush and only making short flights when necessary.  That is primarily the reason I don't have a lot of photos of Henslow's Sparrows.  The Henslow's Sparrow in the next photo popped up when I was photographing a Clay-Colored Sparrow.

Henslow's SparrowHenslow's Sparrow

 

A rare breeder in Pennsylvania, even experienced birders and bird photographers can have difficulty finding Clay-colored Sparrows in suitable habitat.  His plumage may be subtle but he still possesses a modest beauty.

Clay-colored SparrowClay-colored Sparrow

 

We are very fortunate to have breeding pairs of Clay-colored Sparrows in western Pennsylvania.  Take a look at this range map that I found on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.  Their map doesn't even show the Clay-colored Sparrow's breeding in our state.  Again, reclaimed strip mines have helped many species of birds.

Clay-colored Sparrow Range MapClay-colored Sparrow Range Map

 

When a male is singing at the top of his voice, he can be mistaken for an insect.

Clay-colored SparrowClay-colored Sparrow

 

This is a short video of a Henslow's Sparrow followed by a Clay-colored Sparrow singing in early June, 2020.

 

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Clay-colored Sparrow Henslow's Sparrow https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2020/9/unpredictable-pennsylvania-sparrows-henslows-and-clay-colored Mon, 14 Sep 2020 00:52:05 GMT
2020 Warbler Wrap-up https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2020/8/2020-warbler-wrap-up Warbler "season" is a fantastic time of year for me.  I love spending time afield hoping to photograph one of these little beauties in a nice pose that shows off their breeding plumage.  It doesn't last long though.  April through mid-June is about all the time I get to experience the height of warbler season.

There is approximately 32 species of warbler, plus a few hybrids, that I could come across each year.  I have never seen them all in one season.  In addition, I have never made a "wall worthy" photo of all the species I did see.  I always say, "There is next year."

I've recently published some photo essays of a more species specific nature and I hope you all enjoyed them.  This photo essay is my "warbler wrap up" for 2020.  You may see a couple repeat photos but I included one photo for each species of warbler I photographed in 2020.

When you hover your mouse over each photo, you will see the name of the warbler.  Don't hover if you want to test your warbler knowledge.

American RedstartAmerican RedstartMale

 

Bay-breasted WarblerBay-breasted WarblerMale

 

Black-and-white WarblerBlack-and-white Warbler

 

Black-throated Blue WarblerBlack-throated Blue Warbler

 

Black-throated Green WarblerBlack-throated Green Warbler

 

Blackburnian WarblerBlackburnian Warbler

 

Blackpoll WarblerBlackpoll Warbler

 

Blue-winged WarblerBlue-winged Warbler

 

Canada WarblerCanada Warbler

 

Cerulean WarblerCerulean Warbler

 

Chestnut-sided WarblerChestnut-sided Warbler

 

Common YellowthroatCommon Yellowthroat

 

Hooded WarblerHooded Warbler

 

Kentucky WarblerKentucky Warbler

 

Louisiana WaterthrushLouisiana Waterthrush

 

Magnolia WarblerMagnolia Warbler

 

Mourning WarblerMourning Warbler

 

Northern ParulaNorthern Parula

 

OvenbirdOvenbird

 

Palm WarblerPalm Warbler

 

Pine WarblerPine Warbler

 

Prairie WarblerPrairie Warbler

 

Prothonotary WarblerProthonotary Warbler

 

Tennessee WarblerTennessee WarblerMale

 

Worm-eating WarblerWorm-eating Warbler

 

Yellow WarblerYellow Warbler

 

Yellow-rumped WarblerYellow-rumped WarblerMyrtle Warbler

 

Yellow-throated WarblerYellow-throated Warbler

 

That's it.  I hope this made you wonder a little bit about the beauty in our woods and fields.  They are there.  You just need to get out and look.

Until next time,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) American Redstart Bay-breasted Warbler Black-and-white Warbler Blackburnian Blackpoll Warbler Black-throated Blue Warbler Black-throated Green Warbler Blue-winged Warbler Canada Warbler Cerulean Warbler Chestnut-sided Warbler Common Yellowthroat Hooded Warbler Kentucky Warbler Louisiana Waterthrush Magnolia Warbler Mourning Warbler Northern Parula Ovenbird Palm Warbler Pine Warbler Prairie Warbler Prothonotary Warbler Tennessee Warbler Worm-eating Warbler Yellow Warbler Yellow-rumped Warbler Yellow-throated Warbler https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2020/8/2020-warbler-wrap-up Tue, 01 Sep 2020 00:32:41 GMT
No More Warbler Neck https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2020/8/no-more-warbler-neck Photographing warblers brings about many challenges.  Some warblers, like the Mourning Warbler and Kentucky Warbler,  can be found low to the ground in dense thickets or dark woodlands.

Mourning WarblerMourning Warbler Kentucky WarblerKentucky Warbler

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While other warblers, like the Cerulean Warbler and Yellow-throated Warbler, prefer to stay in the upper canopy of our forests providing a challenge for even the keenest birdwatchers.  Whether you're a birdwatcher or a bird photographer, you've probably experienced "Warbler Neck".  That's when your neck begins to ache because you are walking around looking straight up all day.

The Cerulean Warbler and Yellow-throated Warbler are the topics of this photo essay.  First, the Cerulean Warbler. 

I like to photograph birds when they are hunting for food.  Sometimes, they come pretty close providing good photo opportunities. This warbler has a habit of working its way from the beginning of a branch to the end as they veer upward into the canopy.  That is the behavior I caught this male doing.  He was inching his way to the end of the twig inspecting each leaf for insects along the way. Cerulean WarblerCerulean Warbler

 

This little guy will fly a long way from Pennsylvania to where he'll spend the winter in the Andes in South America.

Cerulean WarblerCerulean Warbler

 

Cerulean Warblers are insectivorous, eating mainly flies, beetles, and caterpillars.

Cerulean WarblerCerulean Warbler

 

Male Cerulean Warblers sing a buzzy song that ascends to a buzzy trill. 

Cerulean WarblerCerulean Warbler

 

I mentioned earlier that the Cerulean Warbler spends most of its time high in the treetops.  The Yellow-throated Warbler does as well.  So why do my photos look like I was right up in the trees with them? 

I look for their preferred trees growing below a hillside or a bridge so I can position myself high enough, offering a better chance of being eye level.

One of the preferred trees of the Yellow-throated Warbler is the Sycamore.  There must be a lot of insects nestled inside those seed pods because they spend a lot of time checking each one.

Yellow-throated WarblerYellow-throated Warbler

 

Starting at the bottom, the Yellow-throated Warbler creeps up branches much like a Black-and-white Warbler or Brown Creeper pulling out insects with its long beak.

Yellow-throated WarblerYellow-throated Warbler

 

I didn't know how to describe the song of a Yellow-throated Warbler so this is the description from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.  A male Yellow-throated Warbler's song is described as a series of clear notes that roll into each other, dropping slightly in pitch, but sometimes ending with one higher-pitched note.

Yellow-throated WarblerYellow-throated Warbler

 

These tiny birds reach to great lengths to find food.

Yellow-throated WarblerYellow-throated Warbler

 

Then perform a little acrobatics to see where they will go next.

Yellow-throated WarblerYellow-throated Warbler

 

I saved these two birds for a special photo essay because they are two of my favorite early migrators.  Also, they are two of the more difficult to find and photograph at an eye level perspective.  Sometimes, I'll go an entire spring without seeing either of these birds in a position worth photographing.  Hopefully, next year I will see them again.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) cerulaen warbler kentucky warbler yellow-throated warbler https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2020/8/no-more-warbler-neck Sun, 23 Aug 2020 23:23:38 GMT
Loiusiana Waterthrush - Stream Lurker https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2020/8/louisiana-waterthrush-stream-lurker One of the first signs of spring in eastern North America is the Louisiana Waterthrush.  When you come across a wooded stream with fast moving water, stop, have a seat, and listen for his metallic song.  Soon you may see one foraging on the rocks midstream or at water's edge.

Louisiana WaterthrushLouisiana Waterthrush

 

Although the Louisiana Waterthrush is a warbler, its brown plumage and bold streaking lets you know why it has "thrush" in their name.  As they move about, they tend to rock their body which causes their tail to bob up and down.  This bird's scientific name motacilla is Latin for "wagtail".

Louisiana WaterthrushLouisiana Waterthrush

 

On both its breeding ground of eastern North America and wintering ground in the West Indies and Central America, this species stays close to moving water —especially forested streams and creeks.

Louisiana WaterthrushLouisiana Waterthrush

 

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Louisiana Waterthrush https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2020/8/louisiana-waterthrush-stream-lurker Thu, 13 Aug 2020 23:24:27 GMT
Striking Gold in a Pennsylvania Wetland https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2020/8/striking-gold-in-a-pennsylvania-wetland During the spring and summer, I spend a lot of time exploring our western Pennsylvania swamps and woody wetlands.  Among the waterfowl, turtles, herons, blackbirds, snakes, and Muskrat, lives a tiny golden ray of light called the Prothonotary Warbler. 

Prothonotary Warblers build their nests in tree cavities or nesting boxes placed above the standing water.  They eat a wide variety of insects that are found in the swamps.  During the non-breeding season, they also eat fruit and seeds.

I wear my knee pads when I photograph this bird because I spend a lot of time kneeling on the ground along water edges.  I want to be as low as possible because when they hunt, they are usually only inches above the water.

Prothonotary WarblerProthonotary Warbler

 

After a couple minutes on the perch in the previous image, he jumped to the nearby log to catch an insect.  Do you see another insect in danger on the log just above the water?

Prothonotary WarblerProthonotary Warbler

 

In the southeast, Prothonotary Warblers are sometimes nicknamed "Swamp Warbler".  In reality, the Prothonotary Warbler got its name from the bright yellow robes worn by papal clerks, known as prothonotaries, in the Roman Catholic church.

Prothonotary WarblerProthonotary Warbler

 

As I said earlier, I spend a lot of time low to the ground when I photograph these birds.  Yes, they do fly into trees and shrubs also but I have a fascination with photographing them while they are hunting.  Upon studying their habits, I learn their favorite hunting spots.  Despite the urge to get up and follow them when they fly, I try to stay put and wait for them to return.  That's the best way to make natural, behavioral photos.  This male just caught another midge.

Prothonotary WarblerProthonotary Warbler

 

Only 5 inches long from the beak to tail, a Prothonotray Warbler weighs in at a whopping .44 ounces.

Prothonotary WarblerProthonotary Warbler

 

Gathering nesting material is an encouraging sight.

Prothonotary WarblerProthonotary Warbler

 

The next time you are driving country roads that meander through a dark, drab, woody wetland, be on the lookout for the golden flash of a Prothonotary Warbler.  Prothonotary Warbler populations are declining because of predators and loss of habitat.  There isn't much a single person can do to preserve these seemingly useless and intruding wet areas.  Just remember, every little bit helps and the less we destroy, we are preserving habitat for many species of wildlife.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Golden Swamp Warbler Prothonotary Warbler swamp Wetland https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2020/8/striking-gold-in-a-pennsylvania-wetland Wed, 05 Aug 2020 00:48:50 GMT
Midnight Blue https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2020/8/midnight-blue On a sunny, warm day in May, Elena and I found ourselves in a forest in northwestern Pennsylvania.  Off the beaten path, we were in prime habitat of Canada Warber, Black-throated Blue Warbler, and Blue-headed Vireo to name a few.
 
The trees were full of song as the songbirds are trying to attract a mate.  We walked slowly and silently among the bird songs and I tried to identify them but I didn't know them all.  However, through the soft boughs of a stand of Eastern Hemlock, I heard the buzzy call of a Black-throated Blue Warbler.  The song of the male, loosely translated, sounds like a buzzy "please, please, please squeeeeze."
 
We crossed a small stream on our way to a clearing where a few old, decaying, tree trunks have fallen and were sunken into the green growth in this unusual sunny spot of the forest floor.  That is where we found the source of our voice.   Black-throated Blue Warblers are known to search leaves, twigs, and the underside of vegetation for spiders, flies, and caterpillars.  I spotted our guy inspecting the tiny leaves of hemlocks.
 
Eventually, he jumped down into the lower, bushy growth and shared his time between the bushes and low hanging branches.  I envisioned the photograph I wanted.  If he would only jump on that log, I thought.
 
Elena stepped back into the shadows as I laid on the ground to have a low perspective, and waited.  Eventually, he jumped onto the log.  I missed focus!  Dang-it!  He was 15 feet above once again.
 
Patience paid off.  The next time I was pre-focused on the log so it was easier to find him through the viewfinder.  He jumped back and forth and finally settled on top of the perch I hoped for.
 
 
He didn't stay on top long as warblers aren't really known for staying in one place very long.  He began to work his way back down the log providing photo opportunities along the way.
 
 
I was happy for the photos I got.  As I stood to leave, he flew off the log and onto another broken branch.  I took a few more shots and bid farewell.

 

In case you are not aware, the Black-throated Blue Warbler doesn't live in the north year round.  During winter, they spend their time in the Caribbean.

It was so incredible to be allowed to share a moment of time in his life.  A time when he didn't seem to mind the company.

Thank you for reading. I hope I was able to take you into the forest for a few minutes.  It is an awesome place.

Dan
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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Black-throated Blue Warbler https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2020/8/midnight-blue Sat, 01 Aug 2020 23:30:02 GMT
Lil' Bandit https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2020/7/lil-bandit

As I walk through the woods or drive on back roads, I try to check tree cavities hoping to see an occasional Eastern Screech Owl, Raccoon, or any other tree dwelling animal.  Raccoons are probably my favorite mammal to find in tree cavities.  Although they can be a vicious animal, they are one of the cutest to see.  This is a small collection of my favorite Raccoon photos I made.

This Raccoon was sitting deep in a tree cavity where it was dark so I turned my radio up loud and it decided to take a closer look.  I guess it likes Garth Brooks.

RaccoonRaccoon

 

While a normal Raccoon wouldn't attack a person, they will “bluff” if they feel threatened or cornered.  Last fall, I was looking for White-tailed Deer during the rut and this Raccoon came walking down the hill towards me.  It was pretty far away when it saw me and scurried up the tree.

RaccoonRaccoon

 

Raccoons will eat both plants and other animals. This includes fruits, berries, nuts, fish, frogs, mussels, crayfish, insects, turtles, mice, rabbits, muskrats and bird eggs. 

It is a myth that raccoons wash their food.  What they’re doing when they wet and rub an object is “seeing” it; it’s thought that water contact increases a raccoon’s sense of touch.  In other words, touch is as important a sense as hearing, smell, and sight.

I found this young Raccoon digging in a small, fresh water spring.

RaccoonRaccoon

 

Raccoons are common carriers of rabies, roundworms and leptospirosis.  Just because you see one in the daylight, doesn't mean it's sick.  A general rule is to not approach a Raccoon at any time. Just enjoy them from a distance.

RaccoonRaccoon

 

In late June of this year, I saw three Raccoon kits climbing on a tree.  It was getting dark but with the high sensitivity capabilities of the Canon EOS 1DX MKII, I managed a couple photos.

RaccoonRaccoon

 

The black markings that fall across the Raccoon's eyes often make them look mischievous.  That black fur actually works like the black patches athletes wear to absorb light that can obstruct their vision.  At night, when raccoons are most active, less peripheral light makes it easier for them to perceive contrast in objects, which is essential for seeing in the dark.

RaccoonRaccoon

 

After a long night of hunting, it's good to find a comfortable tree to hang out and relax.

RaccoonRaccoon

 

Thanks for hanging out with me and checking out some of my favorite Raccoon photos.

Take Care,
Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Raccoon https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2020/7/lil-bandit Fri, 24 Jul 2020 23:11:06 GMT
Exploring Our Wetlands - Part Two https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2020/7/exploring-our-wetlands---part-two

 

I hope you enjoyed part one of this two part series "Exploring Our Wetlands".  The following images were made in the later months of May and June.  In future photo essay's, I'm going to go backwards into late winter and early spring to share my waterfowl photos.

Fast forward into June and this young Mallard family has hatched and is growing quickly.  You can see on the one duck raising its wings that the flight feathers, or remiges, haven't fully developed yet.  At the time of this photo, they were still grounded and running around as one large group.

Mallard DuckMallard DuckFamily of fledglings

 

The Common Gallinule, is one of the many mispronounced bird names that I've heard. First, names such as Common Moorhen and Mudhen are obsolete.  The word Gallinule is actually pronounced "Ga-luh-nool".

Although they are good swimmers, they do not have webbed feet like a duck.  Peeking in and out of vegetation, the Common Gallinule has long toes that make it possible to walk on soft mud and floating vegetation.   

Common GallinuleCommon Gallinule

 

The Red-winged Blackbird is a harbinger of Spring.  Even though they are one of the first birds to come back in the spring, they are also the most familiar bird in the wetlands all summer.  This photo shows the display of the male's red shoulder patches when he is singing.

Red-winged BlackbirdRed-winged BlackbirdMale

 

One morning I was lurking around the edges of a swamp when I noticed a nest nestled in a small shrub in the water.  I watched it through my lens for awhile and discovered a Common Grackle incubating eggs.  The nest is in an area populated with water snakes and I feared the eggs wouldn't survive.  I returned about four days later and the nest was abandoned so I believe something ate the eggs. 

Common GrackleCommon Grackle

 

This is a probable culprit of raiding the Common Grackle nest shown above.  I'm not a fan of snakes.  No way!  No How!  However, I liked the way this Northern Water Snake looked slithering through the Spadderdock and last year's dried vegetation.  I especially liked that it was 15 yards away!

Northern WatersnakeNorthern Watersnake

 

The Tree Swallow can be found in many habitats, including wetlands.  They are difficult to photograph in flight as they quickly zig-zag all over the place snatching insects in mid-air.  They got their name because of their habit of nesting in cavities in trees.  However, they do take over nest boxes too.  I love the long swooping wings of the resting Tree Swallow.

Tree SwallowTree Swallow

 

The Least Bittern is the smallest heron.  Rather difficult to see in their preferred habitat, they will give a patient person a glimpse once in a while.

Least BitternLeast BitternMale

 

They are sneaky little buggers as they walk around the swamp inches above the water looking for food.  If you would like to see more photos and read more information about our smallest heron, check out a blog I wrote in August, 2017 called "A Morning at the Marsh".

Least BitternLeast BitternMale

 

I see a lot of Painted Turtles sitting on rocks or logs in various bodies of water.  They tend to be leery of people and slide into the water if anyone comes too near.  Turtles bask in the sun and gain heat from the ground or log they are in contact with, through a process known as conduction.  Basking in the sun allows turtles to dry their shell, which prevents parasites from attaching.

Painted TurtlePainted Turtle

 

This drake Wood Duck was perched on the stump for a long time.  I ignored him at first because he was so far away.  Finally I gave in and made a few photos.

Wood DuckWood DuckDrake

 

One morning, I was watching Bald Eagle fledglings at the swamp in MK Goddard State Park when this Great Blue Heron flew across the swamp and landed on a dead tree.  After awhile, it pulled one leg up into its chest indicating it was getting comfortable so I grabbed a few shots.

Great Blue HeronGreat Blue Heron

 

This Belted Kingfisher perched low over the wetlands most likely watching for a minnow or frog to wander past.

Belted KingfisherBelted Kingfisher

 

I hope you enjoyed this two part series of wildlife found in the still waters of swamps and marshes.  Of course, this wasn't a complete list of wildlife you may see but it is a nice sampling.  Maybe next spring I'll add something different to my portfolio.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Belted Kingfisher Common Gallinule Common Grackle Great Blue Heron Least Bittern Mallard Duck Painted Turtle Red-winged Blackbird Tree Swallow Wood Duck https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2020/7/exploring-our-wetlands---part-two Thu, 16 Jul 2020 00:40:24 GMT
Exploring Our Wetlands - Part One https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2020/7/exploring-our-wetlands-part-1

 

Our wetlands provide habitat to many species of birds and mammals.  I love spending time along these still bodies of water because of the many photographic opportunities.  In March and early April I spend some time in a blind photographing waterfowl.  That will be in another story someday.  In this photo essay and the next, I will show you other photographs I made from April through June of this year.  I have several images to show so I'm not going to write much.  I hope you enjoy.

I usually find Double-crested Cormorants in large flocks but on this day, I saw a lone cormorant standing on a log in a swamp.

Double-crested CormorantDouble-crested Cormorant

 

Occasionally, during early spring, shorebirds show up while on their migration route.  I happened to see a small flock of Greater Yellowlegs in one of our northern counties.  The next day they were gone.

Greater YellowlegsGreater Yellowlegs

 

Sora is the most abundant and widespread rail in North America.  You wouldn't really know that because it is difficult to spot one.  The best chance is in the early morning or evening when they may step out of the thick vegetation to feed.

SoraSora

 

Not to be confused with a Beaver, the Muskrat is a popular resident of our wetlands.

MuskratMuskrat

 

Rusty Blackbirds are uncommon visitors to western Pennsylvania.  They are seen during migration from their winter grounds of the southern United States to their breeding grounds of Canada's boreal forest.  According to reports, this is a declining species so I am always happy to see them.  If you want to see more about the Rusty Blackbird, I wrote a photo essay about their different plumage variations.  You can view it by clicking here.

Rusty BlackbirdRusty Blackbird

 

The Eastern Phoebe is not an uncommon bird.  Besides being found around water, they can often be found in backyards, farms, and woodland edges too.  You know a phoebe is near as they call their name in a raspy “phoebe”.

Eastern PhoebeEastern Phoebe

 

A Swamp Sparrow is a little different than many of the other sparrows we see.  The Swamp Sparrow has longer legs than most sparrows allowing it to wade into shallow water to forage.  This species even sometimes sticks its head under water to try to capture aquatic invertebrates.

Swamp SparrowSwamp Sparrow

 

I usually don't pay a lot of attention to amphibians but I'd be remiss to exclude this American Bullfrog from species found in wetlands.

American BullfrogAmerican Bullfrog

 

That's it for part one.  Part two will be coming soon and I hope you check it out.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) American Bullfrog Double-crested Cormorant Eastern Phoebe Greater Yellowlegs Muskrat Rusty Blackbird Sora Swamp Sparrow https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2020/7/exploring-our-wetlands-part-1 Tue, 14 Jul 2020 01:05:47 GMT
Pennsylvania's Early Arriving Warblers https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2020/7/pennsylvanias-early-arriving-warblers

 

In the early spring, many species of birds travel from their winter home to the north where they will breed.  Many breed in various parts of the northeast including Pennsylvania.  Some continue into Canada.  I am writing this photo essay to show you photos of some of the earliest migrating songbirds that I photographed this spring (2020).

When I say early, I'm speaking about the month of April.  Most migrant songbirds begin to show up in my home state of Pennsylvania in May.  The Palm Warbler is one of the migrants that only pass through enroute to their breeding ground in Canada's boreal forests .  Though the Palm Warbler’s name might imply it is a tropical bird, it is actually one of the northernmost breeding of all warblers.  Only the Blackpoll Warbler breeds further north.

Last April, my wife Elena and I were walking our dogs in nearby Moraine State Park when I noticed a bird hopping along the ground bobbing it's tail.  I walked towards it to discover it was a Palm Warbler.  Once we returned home, I grabbed my gear and returned to the area to look for more Palm Warblers.  I found one.

Palm WarblerPalm Warbler

 

While searching for the Palm Warbler that evening, I saw other yellow birds jumping around the trees.  Knowing it's too early for Yellow Warblers, I watched and discovered there were also Pine Warblers.  Pine Warblers do breed in Pennsylvania but are usually found in pine forests.  Unlike most other warblers, you may find a Pine Warbler visiting bird feeders.  The Pine Warbler is the only warbler that eats large quantities of seeds, primarily those of pines.

Pine WarblerPine Warbler

 

The Black-and-white Warbler is one of the earliest arriving migrants.  They are easy to identify if you listen for their high pitch squeaky song.  Much like a nuthatch, the Black-and-white Warbler crawls up and down tree trunks searching for insects.  This is a handsome male photographed during a song.

Black-and-white WarblerBlack-and-white Warbler

 

I struggle every year to get a really good photo of an American Redstart.  They jump around the trees so fast that I seldom get a clear shot at one. I wanted to point out the bright orange patches on his wings.  They are also present on his tail.  It is said they flash those colors to startle insects, giving themselves a chance to catch them.

American RedstartAmerican RedstartMale

 

The buzzy song of the Black-throated Green Warbler can be heard throughout their migration route and breeding ground.  They do breed in Pennsylvania and I see a lot of them year after year.  This year was an exceptional year for Black-throated Green Warbler sightings.

Black-throated Green WarblerBlack-throated Green Warbler

 

The Yellow-rumped Warbler is probably the most seen warbler in the northeast.  They do migrate as far south as Mexico and Central America but they can also be found year round in some parts of Pennsylvania.  In the spring, they seem to flood North America with impressive numbers.  Many people don't photograph them because they are so plentiful.  In my opinion, how can you pass up a bird as good looking as this male.

Yellow-rumped WarblerYellow-rumped WarblerMyrtle Warbler

 

Even the female Yellow-rumped Warbler is beautiful.

Yellow-rumped WarblerYellow-rumped WarblerMyrtle Warbler

 

The most tropical looking of our warblers is the Northern Parula.  They breed in most of the eastern United States.  They feed high in the trees with a habit of walking out to the very end of tiny branches looking for insects.   Luckily, during migration, they forage lower in the trees providing photo opportunities.  Parulas sing a lot in the spring so I find them by listening for their buzzy trill.

Northern ParulaNorthern Parula

 

There are other species of warbler, Prothonotary, Yellow-throated, and Louisiana Waterthrush for instance, that arrive in April but I plan to include them in other photo essays to help single out their habitat preferences and behaviors.

As always, I hope you enjoyed the photos and information in this photo essay.

Take care,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) American Redstart Black-and-white Warbler Black-throated Green Warbler Northern Parula Palm Warbler Pine Warbler Yellow-rumped Warbler https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2020/7/pennsylvanias-early-arriving-warblers Tue, 07 Jul 2020 23:46:56 GMT
Great Blue Heron: Mornings in a Rookery https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2020/7/great-blue-heron-mornings-in-a-rookery

 

We are fortunate to have a Great Blue Heron rookery that is used year after year providing wonderful photo opportunities.  In case this is new to you, Great Blue Herons, like many other species of heron, nest in colonies. In this one, for instance, this colony of nests are in several Sycamore trees located in a swamp.  There is a highway running past the swamp which provides a 75-100 foot elevation for a semi-level viewing trajectory.  The nesting trees are about 150 yards from the viewing area but with the right photographic equipment and a solid tripod, decent photographs are possible.

This photo is an uncropped image made with a 600mm lens.  I made all the following photos in the second and fourth week of May this year.

Great Blue HeronGreat Blue Heron

 

This is an adult flying into the nest at the uppermost limbs of the tree.  The penthouse, you might say!  See the tiny nestlings?

Great Blue HeronGreat Blue Heron

 

As one adult flies into the nest, the other prepares to leave.

Great Blue HeronGreat Blue Heron

 

This adult on the right just landed on the nest and the two nestlings expect to be fed.  I've watched this rookery quite a few years and it still amazes me that those birds can live on that tiny nest without falling off.

Great Blue HeronGreat Blue Heron

 

Leaving the nest.

Great Blue HeronGreat Blue Heron

 

Feeding time!  It is interesting to watch the chicks feed.  Herons, like many birds, feed their chicks by regurgitating food into the nests or directly into their mouths.   Two of the chicks can be seen tugging on the parent’s bill. This behavior helps to stimulate the parent to regurgitate.

Great Blue HeronGreat Blue Heron

 

Here is a short video of a couple Great Blue Heron nests during feeding.  You will see them tugging on the parent's bill.  The chicks will fight with each other to try and make sure that they are the one who receives most of the food. 

This is a High-definition 4K video so adjust the setting accordingly if the player doesn't do it automatically.  Also, if the screen looks grey, click again and allow Adobe Flash to run.

Great Blue Heron Rookery

 

I hope you enjoyed this photo essay and thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Great Blue Heron Rookery https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2020/7/great-blue-heron-mornings-in-a-rookery Fri, 03 Jul 2020 01:00:02 GMT
Red Fox Family Frolicking https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2020/6/red-fox-family-frolicking

 

Each April, when my focus turns towards photographing the returning songbirds, there is always a piece of me hoping to get an opportunity to photograph the den of a wild canine like the Red Fox. 

Males are called "dog" foxes and females are called "vixens."  Besides the fact that they are intelligent predators with extremely sharp senses of sight, smell and hearing, the pups, also known as kits, are a lot of fun to watch once they are old enough to come out of the den to play.

Breeding usually begins in February and by April, the kits leave the den for short periods to explore.  Just like any other puppy, they play with anything they can pick up and run with.

Red FoxRed Fox

 

A litter of fox ranges from four to ten but the average is six.  Young are born in dens. The Red Fox usually enlarges a woodchuck burrow or might den in a hollow log.  Getting an opportunity to watch an active fox den is a toss-up each year because they may not use the same den the following year.  I was able to photograph two dens this year.  These first five photos are from the first den.  A photographer friend of mine invited me to a farm to watch.

The kits play just like domestic dogs.  In this photo, they are circling each other and waiting for one to pounce.

Red FoxRed Fox

 

Setting up my gear under a blind is the desired way to photograph these animals.  Although Red Fox don't seem to mind making a den in a populated area, they can still be spooked and will move the litter if they feel threatened.  Sometimes, the kits will hear the clicks of the camera and stop to look but most of the time, they are unconcerned about my presence.

Red FoxRed Fox

 

They were playing so hard one fox even bit it's own foot.

Red FoxRed Fox

 

Their play times usually don't last very long.  They tire quickly and retreat into their den to rest.  During the day, neither parent is around the den.  They may come to nurse or bring food but leave.  I suppose their time spent at the den is short so they don't attract predators.

In the evening, it is common for the adults to come nearby to check on them.  The kits will stop frolicking and stare into the nearby woods.  They are probably hoping mom or dad is coming with food.

Red FoxRed Fox

 

The next six photos were made at the second den of the year.  Elena and I were out and about one evening and I happened to see an orange flash at the edge of the woods.  I explored enough to see one of the little foxes.  I returned the favor to my friend and, a couple days later, we set up under the cover of wild, shrubby, growth in a field hoping the kits would leave the woods to play.  They did.  There were three kits in this litter. 

These two played together a lot while the third liked to explore on its own.  This is the largest and smallest kit in the litter.

Red FoxRed FoxMoraine State Park

 

One of the cutest habits of the Red Fox is their tendency to pounce.  When they get older they will pounce on their prey.  Right now, they just pounce on each other.

Red FoxRed FoxMoraine State Park

 

There is a lot of biting in the face area in their style of play.

Red FoxRed FoxMoraine State Park

 

They need to be quick on their feet too as they tend to go after the feet as well.

Red FoxRed FoxMoraine State Park

 

Even during play, it doesn't take much to sway their attention to something else, leaving itself vulnerable to a bite on the jaw from a sibling.

Red FoxRed FoxMoraine State Park

 

There was a large insect flying around, grabbing the attention of this little kit.  Their innocence and playful attitude will be short lived as they grow and become adults.

Red FoxRed FoxMoraine State Park

 

This is a vixen with one of her three kits from a third family I saw this year.  They will stick together through August or September when the family disbands.  Both males and females become sexually mature in ten months so the kits may breed the next winter.

 

I hope you enjoyed this photo essay.  Photos can't fully express the cuteness of a young fox family.  If you are interested, please check out more photos of Red Fox in my Red Fox Gallery

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Kit Red Fox https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2020/6/red-fox-family-frolicking Sun, 28 Jun 2020 21:00:00 GMT
Day Trip: Benezette, PA https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2020/6/day-trip-benezette-pa

 

One benefit of living in central, western PA is that I have plenty of places within an hour drive that offer great wildlife photo opportunities.  Then are are a few destinations that are about two hours.  One of those is Benezette, home of the Pennsylvania elk herd, Elk Forest, and beautiful scenery.

I awoke at 4 AM to get dressed and get on the road so I can arrive in the mountains of Elk County close to sunrise.  It's the time of year to photograph bull elk with their growing antlers or cow elk with calves by her side.  However, my main reason for this trip was to photograph Dickcissel in State Game Land (SGL) 311, known to locals and frequent visitors as "The Saddle".  The Dickcissel is a prairie bird that breeds in small numbers in Pennsylvania.  They are rare to find but I usually find them in The Saddle.

When I first arrived to the mountains surrounding Benezette shortly after sunrise, I began looking for bull elk.  The bulls tend to stay in the mountains in bachelor groups until fall when mating season begins.  My first sighting was a White-tailed Deer doe and two fawns.  They were a couple hundred yards from the road but I pulled over in case they came closer.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

The second fawn came out of the woods to play but it seemed to encourage the family to enter the woods ending my photo opportunity.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

After a short time driving around the back roads, I found two bull elk.  One was quite happy staying in the woods with many trees separating us but this bull crossed the road and entered the woods on the other side.

PA Elk (June, 2020)PA Elk (June, 2020)

 

As I continued to look around for elk, I saw the head of a hen Wild Turkey in a field near the road.

Wild TurkeyWild Turkey

 

She began clucking and was reluctant to fly away indicating that she might have little ones in the high grass.  Sure enough, several poults crossed an opening in the grass before disappearing once again. 

Wild TurkeyWild Turkey

 

Here is a close up of the Wild Turkey poults before following mom into the thick grass.  Their mother was still clucking so I drove away and left them alone.

Wild TurkeyWild Turkey

 

I was on my way up Winslow Hill Road to SGL 311 when I noticed this White-tailed Deer doe staring at me.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

I arrived at the top of the hill and found a friend of mine in the elk viewing area parking lot.  I pulled over and we got out of our vehicles and began to talk about our morning findings.  The sun was peeking through the clouds and it also began to rain.  The combination created this beautiful rainbow over the grasslands, in which, I will shortly be looking for Dickcissel.  The hilltop under the rainbow is The Saddle which comes up in a lot of conversations in September, during the rut.

Benezette RainbowBenezette RainbowSeen from viewing area parking lot looking towards "The Saddle"

 

The cabin on the hill is a popular sight for people coming to Benezette and it's usually used in reference to where they saw elk during the rut.

Benezette RainbowBenezette RainbowSeen from viewing area parking lot looking towards "The Saddle"

 

During the short drive from the parking lot to the entrance road into The Saddle, I found this male Eastern Bluebird near some nesting boxes.

Eastern BluebirdEastern BluebirdMale

 

My friend joined me on the hike into The Saddle.    We had a difficult time finding Dickcissel.  On our way we saw several Bobolink, another grassland bird, flying around.  The photo below is a female Bobolink.

BobolinkBobolinkFemale

 

There were a lot more male Bobolink than female.

BobolinkBobolinkMale

 

After a couple hours, we decided it wasn't our day to see a Dickcissel and returned to our vehicles.  In case you were wondering what a Dickcissel looks and sounds like, I'll wrap up this trip with a video I made a couple years ago in this same location.  (If you get a gray screen where the video should be, click on it again and then allow Adobe to run.)

Dickcissel

 

Elk aren't the only attraction to Benezette and anyone who loves nature and wildlife will find your days there relaxing and leave you wanting to return.

Take care,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) American Elk Benezette Bobolink Elk Viewing Area White-tailed Deer Wild Turkey https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2020/6/day-trip-benezette-pa Mon, 22 Jun 2020 01:29:39 GMT
Autumn Brings Out The Big Boys https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2020/6/autumn-brings-out-the-big-boys Three months!  Three months and the Pennsylvania bull elk will have rubbed the velvet from their antlers that have been growing rapidly since they dropped their old ones in late winter or early spring.  Three months and the cow elk will be nearing estrus.  Three months and people will be asking "Are they bugling yet"?  All indicators that the rut (mating season) is near.

Right now, it's the middle of June and we're experiencing hot and humid weather.  The songbirds are still singing.  The local Bald Eagles are fledging the nest.  There is a lot of wildlife to photograph so I really shouldn't be thinking about fall.  The cool weather, colorful landscape, elk bugling, and a few weeks later, the White-tailed Deer bucks chasing the does, takes over one's mind several times a year.  My thoughts go back to last fall and some memories and photos I never shared in a photo essay.

This photo essay will highlight some of the "big boys" I photographed last year.  Of course, I need to include the girls too.  What would the rut be without the girls???

In August, the bull elk are still running in bachelor groups and have not yet become interested in the ladies.  Their antlers are nearly full grown and soon the velvet will begin to fall off.  This bull was in a good place with all the apple trees surrounding him.

PA Elk (Aug, 2019)PA Elk (Aug, 2019)

 

As you can see, elk have no upper front teeth.  They are like goats and cows.  Way in the back of their mouth they have large molars on both the top and bottom for chewing their cud.

PA Elk (Aug, 2019)PA Elk (Aug, 2019)

 

When the rut begins, the bulls have added weight and their necks have swollen to the largest they've ever been due to a burst of testosterone.

PA Elk (Sept, 2019)PA Elk (Sept, 2019)

 

The rut is exhausting because the bull is so worried about the herd of cows they've accumulated, they eat less and don't sleep as often.   Sometimes, I've seen them lay down in the middle of a field with their harem, and close their eyes.  Even when they appear to be sleeping, a distant bugle will cause him to raise his head and answer the call.

PA Elk (Sept, 2019)PA Elk (Sept, 2019)

 

Ah, the perfume.  Hey, when I was a young, single guy I may have pumped a spray or two of cologne before going out for the evening.  Bull elk do the same.  It isn't Drakkar Noir or Polo Sport we're talking about, it's urine.  During the rut, bull elk urinate on themselves or on the ground and roll in it.  The urine soaks into their hair and gives them a distinct smell which attracts cows.

PA Elk (Sept, 2019)PA Elk (Sept, 2019)

 

During the rut, some of the cows still have a first year calf by their side.  I can't say a bull won't try to service a cow with a calf but I've never seen it actually happen.  I guess if the cow goes into estrus, she's not off limits.

PA Elk (Sept, 2019)PA Elk (Sept, 2019)

 

One bull can service 20 - 40 cows during the rut.

PA Elk (Sept, 2019)PA Elk (Sept, 2019)

 

The thickness of a bull's muscular body is very impressive.

PA Elk (Sept, 2019)PA Elk (Sept, 2019)

 

One evening, I decided to get away from everyone, be alone, and look for elk in non-popular locations.  I ran into a small herd on a hilltop and photographed them as the sun was getting low in the horizon.

PA Elk (Oct, 2019)PA Elk (Oct, 2019)

 

The bull was rubbing and nibbling on the small limbs of White Pine.  From the looks of his antlers, he has been in a ruckus or two.

PA Elk (Oct, 2019)PA Elk (Oct, 2019)

 

Not long after the elk rut winds down in mid-October, the White-tailed Deer rut begins to ramp up.  White-tailed Deer rut activity is a little more difficult to photograph simply because the White-tailed Deer usually aren't acclimated to people like Pennsylvania Elk in the prime viewing areas around Benezette.  The doe can be somewhat forgiving and not flee at first sight.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

This doe was being guarded by an older 10-point buck.  He is off camera to the right but I photographed him for the next photo.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

As long as the doe is content, the buck will stand there, eat, or even lay down.  That's patience!

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

Licking branches serve as an important way of communication within the whitetails everyday life. Bucks deposit secretions from their pre-orbital glands on the branch or twig and is one of the most effective means of communication between deer.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

I saw a lone doe one evening so I decided to sit and wait for something to happen.  Sure enough, an 8-point buck came along.  Keeping his eyes on the doe, he hardly even noticed me.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

Another nice 8-point.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

The White-tailed Deer rut was nearing the end but if a doe hasn't been mated yet, she is still the focus of the males.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

Here is another look at the last buck as he circled trees while following the doe.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

I see a lot of different shapes and sizes of antlers.  This photo reminds me of when modern TV's stretch an old 4:3 ratio television show to the High Definition 16:9 ratio in order to fill the screen.  Eveybody looks chubby.  His neck and antler width was so impressive I had to include him.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

All the elk in this photo essay were found in the Benezette, PA area.  The White-tailed Deer were found in various portions of western Pennsylvania.  All animals in the photo essay were wild animals and not part of a  farm or trapped in any enclosures.

I hope you enjoyed my memories of last year's ruts through my lens.

Take care,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) American Elk Benezette White-tailed Deer https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2020/6/autumn-brings-out-the-big-boys Sun, 14 Jun 2020 21:51:06 GMT
Late Summer, Autumn, and the White-tailed Deer Rut https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2018/12/late-summer-autumn-and-the-white-tailed-deer-rut White-tailed Deer are one of my favorite creatures to photograph. This photo essay highlights some photos I made from mid-summer through November 2018.  Beginning in late summer with the growing fawns and the quickly forming antlers on the males, this story will end with my observations during the annual mating season, known as the rut.

In August, this year's fawns still possess their spots but there are signs of their maturation into adulthood.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

Late summer offers some photographic opportunities near soy bean fields.  Deer love to munch on soy bean plants and if you plant it, they will come.  I sat in a blind one September evening and observed this 6-point exit the woods on his way to the fields.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

This fawn stepped out of the woods line with caution.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

I saw quite a few bucks at this location but this one had the biggest rack.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

Darkness was coming quickly when I packed up for the evening.  On my way back to my vehicle, I found this spike that was more daring than the other deer that already fled when they saw me.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

In October, I begin to look for bucks in pursuit of females in heat.  During the mating period, known as the rut, the males seem to be oblivious of me and my camera as they are only paying attention to the doe.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

Here is one of the larger racks I found this year.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

If I find a buck that doesn't run, I begin to look around for the reason.  She is usually found nearby.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

The next four photos were made along a ridge.  I was part way down one side and they walked up from the other.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

These next two bucks were in pursuit of a doe.  I'm glad they paused in a clearing long enough for a photo.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

After seeing this buck in a weedy field, it became apparent that he didn't want to leave.  After a few minutes, I noticed a doe laying down in the thick cluster in the left side of the photo.  The buck kept looking over his shoulder for competition.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

Here is a nice 8-point with a broken tine.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

During the rut, male deer sniff the air for the scent of a doe in estrus.  When they sniff the air, they lift their head up and their upper lip curls upward.  This is known as a lip curl.  I've photographed a few lip curls over the years.  Some are better than others.  The buck in the next photo is doing a lip curl but it isn't one of the most noticeable I've photographed.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

If I'm driving around back roads and find a lone doe, I usually stop and watch for a while because there my be a buck nearby.  I found this doe feeding in a field so I pulled over and watched.  I sat about 15 minutes watching this doe walk and eat.  Finally, the buck I was hoping to see ascended from the thick woods.  As the doe walked, I think it got a little too far away from the woods for his comfort.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

Here is another photo of the 8-point with a broken tine.  You can see where it broke on the left side of his rack.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

I got a call from a friend one evening alerting me of a nice 10-point with a doe.  I quickly met up with him to see this guy.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

His doe was still bedded down from her afternoon rest period.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

This buck provided some nice photo opportunities.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

I found this buck as darkness set in.  I'm glad he stood still long enough for a sharp image because my shutter speed was slow.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

The next two photos are a doe with a buck in pursuit of her affection.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

The size of a male's rack might have an influence on a does decision making when it comes to selecting a mate.  This buck's determination made up for the size of his rack as he wasn't giving up on this doe.  It grew darker and I left while he was still hanging around.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

The following photos are other deer I found.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

This group of doe was feeding along the top of a ridge while the sun was setting.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

I'll wrap up this photo essay with one more buck.  I never saw the doe but he didn't mind me being there so she had to be in the thick brambles somewhere.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

He gave me one last look before heading down the hill and out of sight.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

I hope you enjoyed the White-tailed Deer photos I shared.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) doe estrus rut White-tailed Deer https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2018/12/late-summer-autumn-and-the-white-tailed-deer-rut Sun, 30 Dec 2018 16:30:42 GMT
How Birds Keep Their Cool on Hot Summer Days https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2018/8/how-birds-keep-their-cool-on-hot-summer-days We’ve had quite a few days this summer when the temperature reached the high 80’s and sometimes low 90’s.  When the humidity is high it doesn’t even need to be that warm to be uncomfortable.  Luckily for us humans, we can go into an air conditioned building or vehicle and cool down.

What about wildlife?  What can they do?  We’ve all seen mammals, like our pet dogs and cats, breathe heavy.  They pant!  But what about the birds you see standing in direct sun for long periods of time.  Every species of animal needs to maintain its body temperature.

The Great Blue Heron comes to mind.  How does a Great Blue Heron remove heat from its body? 

The Great Blue Heron, among other birds, vibrate their gular (throat tissues). With an open mouth, the moist gular area is rapidly vibrated, thereby causing a very efficient form of evaporative cooling.

Click on the video below to see a Great Blue Heron cooling itself by gular fluttering.

Great Blue Heron

 

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) great blue heron gular fluttering thermoregulation https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2018/8/how-birds-keep-their-cool-on-hot-summer-days Mon, 27 Aug 2018 03:37:04 GMT
Kirtland's Warbler: One of America's Rarest Birds https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2018/6/kirtlands-warbler-one-of-americas-rarest-birds People from several countries travel to northern Michigan in the spring to see the Kirtland’s Warbler.  The bird is currently on the endangered list and on the life list of many birders and wildlife photographers.  Read on to hear more about this birds amazing fight for survival, its resurgence, and my experience of photographing the species for the first time.

At 5 o’clock in the morning my cell phone began playing its soft alarm music indicating it was time for Elena and I to see one of America’s rarest birds, the Kirtland’s Warbler.

I opened the drapes in the Grayling Michigan Days Inn to find a cloudless northern Michigan sky.  Normally, I would be thrilled for cloudless skies but today I was hoping for a cloud base to filter the sunshine on my quest to photograph the endangered Kirtland’s Warbler.

Hartwick PinesHartwick PinesGrayling, MI After a quick continental breakfast at the hotel, we found our way to Hartwick Pines State Park where, in conjunction with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Michigan Audubon conducts Kirtland's Warbler guided tours each June to view the warbler in its breeding habitat.

From the Hartwick Pines Visitors Center, tour participants caravanned about a half hour to a Jack Pine plantation that the warblers selected to breed this year.  The path through the plantation is a two way path that looks like an unnamed country road. Jack Pine PlantationJack Pine PlantationNear Grayling, MI

 

At the time of this writing the Kirtland’s Warbler is listed on the State and Federal Endangered Species lists.  Because the Kirtland’s Warbler nests on the ground, we were warned to stay on the path.  Stepping on a nest results in a $10,000 fine.  Now that would be an expensive photograph!

Other instructions included no use of bird calls or pishing.  Pishing is a small, repetitive noise used in the field to attract small birds. 

Within minutes of entering the path, we heard a Kirtland’s Warbler singing.  I was carrying my Canon 1DX MK II full frame camera body, Canon 600mm MK II, and Canon 1.4 X Extender III on a RRS monopod.  Within 30 minutes, as a bird flit between trees and the ground alongside of the path,  I realized distance shots would be unnecessary and I didn't need the 1.4 X Extender.

Kirtland's WarblerKirtland's WarblerMale - Grayling, MI

 

We spent the morning with tour guide, Craig Kasmer, the Park Interpreter at Hartwick Pines State Park.  Craig is the man on the left way in the back in the next photo.  He began the program at 7 AM with a brief lecture and video explaining pretty much everything I’m talking about in this blog.  About 7:30 we departed Hartwick Pines State Park and arrived at the Jack Pine plantation about 8:00.  People were free to leave whenever they wanted so after about an hour, some of the 17 tour members left. 

Jack Pine PlantationJack Pine PlantationNear Grayling, MI

 

Kirtland’s Warbler sing for a couple reasons.  One is to find a mate and another is to protect their territory.  Interestingly, as we left a singing male, we had to walk about 100 yards before encountering another.  I don't know this to be fact but it seemed like their own comfortable breeding territory may have spanned about 100 yards.

Kirtland's WarblerKirtland's WarblerMale - Grayling, MI

 

I was happy to hear nestlings have hatched so both parents would be out searching for food and males would be protecting their family.  We found this female going to her nest with food for the nestlings.

Kirtland's WarblerKirtland's WarblerFemale - Grayling, MI

 

Everyone kept their distance and watched the birds search for food and once in a while they would stop to preen.

Kirtland's WarblerKirtland's WarblerMale - Grayling, MI Kirtland's WarblerKirtland's WarblerMale - Grayling, MI

 

Each spring, the .5 ounce Kirtland's Warbler migrates from the Bahamas to their northern breeding ground.  You can only find nesting pairs in a few counties in the Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula and, in recent years, they have also been recorded in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Wisconsin, and Ontario.  In June the nestlings hatch and the rest of the summer is spent raising the fledglings and eating to prepare for their winter migration.  Around the beginning of September, the Kirtland’s Warbler flies back to the Bahamas until instincts tell them to come back north to do it all over again.

Kirtland's WarblerKirtland's WarblerMale - Grayling, MI

 

In 1987, the Kirtland’s Warbler's world population was as low as 350 birds.  Through the work of scientists and land managers, that population has increased to over 4000 birds.

There are two main reasons for their initial decline.  First, the Kirtland’s Warbler is very picky about their breeding habitat and only breed in young, thick, Jack Pine forests averaging a height of 5 – 15 feet.  Second, they require forests covering 30-40 acres to raise their young.  A mature Jack Pine can reach 55-65 feet in height, so the Kirtland’s Warbler looks for young forests.

Here is a look at the Jack Pine plantation we were in. It's difficult to tell but there were acres upon acres of Jack Pine that I estimate were no taller than 10 feet.

Jack Pine PlantationJack Pine PlantationNear Grayling, MI

 

So, how does Mother Nature maintain Jack Pine forests suitable for a Kirtland’s Warbler?  The cones on mature trees are serotinous.  That means they only open based on a trigger of some sort.  For Jack Pine, the trigger is when they are exposed to intense heat, greater than or equal to 122 degrees F.  Before modern firefighting technology, fires would destroy Jack Pine forests every 30 – 50 years.  As a fire sweeps through leaving charred ground and tree skeletons, the waxy Jack Pine cones open and distribute the seeds in a tight circle around the charred tree.  New trees then grow providing a new densely populated Jack Pine forest.  The warbler first appears in an area about six years after a fire.  After about 15 years, when the trees become too tall, the warbler leaves the area. 

Nowadays, fires that occur are usually under control before doing a lot of destruction.  Plus, people are cutting into these forests to build homes and businesses.  The irregular shape of the Jack Pine does not make a pretty landscape tree so with little regard to the essential Kirtland’s Warbler's habitat, the trees are removed.

Through the work of the US Forest Service and Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Kirtland’s Warbler habitat is being created by harvesting old and tall Jack Pine forests and planting new ones to replicate how it would naturally occur.

Jack Pine PlantationJack Pine PlantationNear Grayling, MI

 

Here is a male perched near the top of a Jack Pine.

Kirtland's WarblerKirtland's WarblerMale - Grayling, MI

 

I mentioned in the beginning of this blog that I was wishing for a soft cloud cover to filter the sun but didn't get that.  Harsh sun, even in the early hours, present many issues with exposure on light feathers such as yellow and white.  Hopefully, I'll see slightly overcast skies on my return trip next June.  In the meantime, I'll accept bright sun and be happy that I got to photograph this rare bird.

Here is a male Kirtland's Warbler defending his territory and young family while carrying a worm in his mouth.

Kirtland's WarblerKirtland's WarblerMale - Grayling, MI

 

Minutes later, after moving closer to the nest, he is still carrying the same worm he had in the previous photo.

Kirtland's WarblerKirtland's WarblerMale - Grayling, MI

 

They are a bird that like dense branches.  In the midst of flitting around, they sometimes stop briefly on a good perch for a photograph.

Kirtland's WarblerKirtland's WarblerMale - Grayling, MI

 

We watched this warbler crawl all over several trees looking for insects before finally climbing up this branch out of the center of the tree.

Kirtland's WarblerKirtland's WarblerMale - Grayling, MI

 

Finally, he stopped for a second.

Kirtland's WarblerKirtland's WarblerMale - Grayling, MI

 

Food is what's important so he continued to search.

Kirtland's WarblerKirtland's WarblerMale - Grayling, MI

 

In my observation, they have a habit of swiveling their body 90 degrees like an oscillating sprinkler while singing their song.  It's as if they are broadcasting their song over their territory.

Kirtland's WarblerKirtland's WarblerMale - Grayling, MI

 

About 11:00 the sun was getting high, it was getting hot, and the birds were singing a little less.  Craig, Elena and I were the last people remaining from the group and we called it a day.

With the Kirtland’s Warbler numbers reaching 4,000 today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requested to delist the warbler from the federal list of threatened and endangered species.  A final decision is expected by the end of 2018.

The information in this photo blog was created using my personal observations, lecture, video, and questions during the tour, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, and a Kirtland's Warbler Festival publication available at the Hartwick Pines Visitor's Center.

I highly recommend the Kirtland’s Warbler tours.  For somebody coming into the area from far away it was nice to have someone take you directly to a nesting site.   Having access to Craig Kasmer for three plus hours, was invaluable.  Keep in mind there will be good days and bad days in regards to bird sightings.  It seems like you will always hear them but they need to be near the path to see them.  I hope it’s a good day when you go.

Thanks for reading,

Dan

 

 

 

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) grayling hartwick acres state park kirtland's warbler mi https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2018/6/kirtlands-warbler-one-of-americas-rarest-birds Fri, 22 Jun 2018 13:32:40 GMT
Different Looks of the Rusty Blackbird https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2018/3/different-looks-of-the-rusty-blackbird

The Rusty Blackbird is a medium-sized blackbird and is also a migrant through western Pennsylvania. I didn't know much about this species but after watching a small flock of them catching bugs in a swamp one morning, I decided to research the different markings that I saw. On the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website I found the reason for the distinct differences.

First, the breeding male is dark glossy black with a greenish sheen and yellow eyes.

Rusty BlackbirdRusty BlackbirdBreeding Male

 

Second, the non-breeding male is dark brown overall with rusty edges of feathers, and a pale eye and eyebrow.

Rusty BlackbirdRusty BlackbirdNon-breeding Male

 

Last but not least, the female is brownish to rusty colored with pale yellow eyes and dark feathers around the eyes.

Rusty BlackbirdRusty BlackbirdFemale

 

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) rusty blackbird https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2018/3/different-looks-of-the-rusty-blackbird Fri, 16 Mar 2018 20:27:39 GMT
A Display of Tenacity at Lake Wilhelm https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2018/2/a-display-of-tenacity-at-lake-wilhelm

Elena and I decided to visit Pymatuning and M.K. Goddard State Parks with hopes to photograph Snow Buntings, Rough-legged Hawks, and Bald Eagles. Our first destination of the morning was Pymatuning.  Just so I don't bore you by getting long-winded, I'll jump to 3:00 in the afternoon when we drove up to the shore of Lake Wilhelm with only a few Canada Goose photos and only sightings of the other birds I was after.

We found one of the nesting eagle pair sitting on the ice near a very small patch of open water.  Elena asked if it was the male or female.  I said I couldn't tell until the mate came. There are a few subtle differences between the male and female but the easiest way to tell is when they are together.  Females are larger. 

We watched the lone eagle quite a while as it took several drinks of water and pecked at the ice.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

All of a sudden it began to vocalize.  I asked Elena to watch the sky because either its mate is nearby or an intruder is in its territory. 

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

As you can see, it was a juvenile Bald Eagle intruding.  In case you don't know, the nesting adults have been nesting less than 1/4 mile away for years so they are literally defending their territory. The juvenile ignored the warnings of the adult and landed on the ice. Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Apparently not liking that, within seconds the adult left the ice to chase the juvenile away.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

There were a couple scuffles between the two eagles but they were too far for photos. Eventually, the adult eagle returned to the same spot on the ice.  I am thankful it didn't land further out on the ice.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

After the adult landed, the juvenile, showing its tenacity, followed and landed right behind the adult. Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

The adult began to vocalize again. This time, I believe it was calling for its mate. 

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

The juvenile began jousting with the adult.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

The irritated adult began another pursuit.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

So far, we still don't know the gender of this eagle.  But we are about to find out.  I'm going to give it away right now so ladies, get ready to roar.  Hearing the calls of her mate, the FEMALE came soaring out of nowhere.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

She attacked the renegade juvenile.  I guess I got a little excited because most of the fight scene photos were blurry so those photos went into the trash bin.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Now that the juvenile is up against two fighting eagles, he disappeared across the lake.  After circling the area a couple times the female landed about 10 yards from the male and they began vocalizing with each other.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

After about five minutes, everybody was calmed down so she began to walk towards her mate.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

The way she was fluffing up as she walked toward the male I kinda knew what was going to happen.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

They have been working on their nest daily so I guess it's time to fill it with eggs.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

The entire act lasted about 10 seconds then he used her right wing as a "running board" to step down. That was nice of her.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

After all that excitement, they sat quietly on the ice. 

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

It was after 5 o'clock and the pair was still sitting quietly on the ice. Finally, they began to wander around. It was time for one to go to the nest site. 

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

The other flew to a clear portion of the ice and gingerly walked around. Apparently, there are dead shad under the thin ice and it could see the fish.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Below is a sort video of the Bald Eagle picking up bits of food from the ice.  Click the icon in the center to begin the video. Bald Eagle

 

With no way to get the fish under the ice, the eagle flew off too.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) bald eagle lake wilhelm mk goddard state park https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2018/2/a-display-of-tenacity-at-lake-wilhelm Thu, 08 Feb 2018 00:08:09 GMT
2017 PA Elk Rut Photography Affected by Summer Heat https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/10/2017-pa-elk-rut-photography-affected-by-summer-heat A late August or early September visit to elk country in north central Pennsylvania can offer many stages of changes for an American Elk.  The calves have grown but are far from the size of their moms, the bulls have begun to shed the velvet that covered their antlers all summer, and bull elk are still roaming in bachelor groups.  Bulls begin to feel the effects of the increasing testosterone in their bodies as the upcoming mating season approaches.

Scenes like the one below are common in August and early September.  One second they are eating together and the next they may have their heads down in playful jousting with their new set of hardened bone on their head.

PA Elk (Sept, 2017)PA Elk (Sept, 2017)

 

Fast forward a mere three weeks and the scenes are completely different.  As the cow elk begin their estrus cycle indicating they are ready to mate, the bulls are preparing themselves for a stressful, yet weary month.  The sap of young trees have polished their racks, giving them that dark chocolate color and their chest and neck area has transformed into a thick mass prepared to aggressively defend their herd, and they become very vocal.  The sound of their bugle has a couple purposes.  It helps the elk cows decide which bull they want to be with and it staves off other bulls that may have a notion to steal members of the others' herd.

This bull came out of the thicket ready for a challenge.

PA Elk (Sept, 2017)PA Elk (Sept, 2017)

 

This years' rut was very different from many previous years.  The eastern United States was enjoying a very hot late September making people wish they had not closed their pools for the season.  Photographers in elk country were cursing the heat because it affected the photo opportunities during what would be the most active time of the elk rut.  Elk, like the White-tailed Deer, are crepuscular animals. Crepuscular animals are active primarily during the periods of dawn and dusk.  Heat does not necessarily affect when the elk cow enters her estrus cycle, but it does affect the time they spend out of the deep woods where they spend the day resting.

I visited the Benezette area on a Tuesday, only days before the warm front entered the area.  It turned out to be the only day for me that elk photography was not disappointing.  This next photo was made only seconds after the bull from the previous photo ended a chase.  Although they were still far up the hill, he made me a little nervous.

PA Elk (Sept, 2017)PA Elk (Sept, 2017)

 

I met up with my friend Tom Dorsey before sunrise on that Tuesday morning.  We found ourselves with a decision to make.  We could hear bugling in a few different directions and after a few minutes of zigzagging around our options, we made a decision.  Based on his experiences, Tom had a hunch about a certain herd.  We based it on the number of bulls we could hear and Tom's experience of which way they would leave the food plots and enter the woods for the day.  That is where we headed.

PA Elk (Sept, 2017)PA Elk (Sept, 2017)

 

After a long hike through the woods, we made it to a clearing with a small pond.  Elk cows, feeding as they waited on instruction from their bull, already filled the field.  Moments later, bulls began to crest the hilltop and assess the situation.

PA Elk (Sept, 2017)PA Elk (Sept, 2017)

 

Tom and I were hoping the pond could be used in our photography that morning, but only one elk walked through it.  Several cows and calves came down for a drink offering a nice reflection in the water but our distance, and our 600 mm lenses, put us too close to get animal and reflection in the frame. PA Elk (Sept, 2017)PA Elk (Sept, 2017)

 

Keeping your herd together can be a daunting task when there are several other decent sized bulls trying to steal some.

PA Elk (Sept, 2017)PA Elk (Sept, 2017)

 

This bull gave chase but she was not ready!  Hey, you never know unless you try, right?

PA Elk (Sept, 2017)PA Elk (Sept, 2017)

 

It was a fantastic morning as I was able to make photos in wild terrain.  This bull stops to sniff the air in his quest to find a cow in heat.

PA Elk (Sept, 2017)PA Elk (Sept, 2017)

 

Now a bugle!

PA Elk (Sept, 2017)PA Elk (Sept, 2017)

 

It did not take long for all of the elk to enter the woods, leaving us with an empty field and an end to our elk photography for the morning. 

Tom and I spent a great afternoon touring Elk Forest and other areas that he frequents.  After dinner, we went to State Game Lands 311 containing an area known as "The Saddle".  The cool, wet evergreens was the home of a bull and his cows for the day.  We hoped they would exit the woods while it was still light enough to photograph them.

We were on the northeastern side of the mountain so the setting sun affected us early.  As I was beginning to worry that we would not see anything, they emerged.  Here is one of this years' calves.

PA Elk (Sept, 2017)PA Elk (Sept, 2017)

 

This is the big guy that people were trying to get a glimpse of all day long through the heavy cover of brush and evergreens.

PA Elk (Sept, 2017)PA Elk (Sept, 2017)

 

He was the only bull in the immediate area but bulls on far away hills answered his bugles.

PA Elk (Sept, 2017)PA Elk (Sept, 2017)

 

He spent some time feeding in the meadow and, feeling at ease, decided to lay down.  Even though he was relaxing, he still answered other bulls' bugles with authority.

PA Elk (Sept, 2017)PA Elk (Sept, 2017)

 

I love the capability of modern cameras to shoot in low light.  When it becomes too dark to make photos, you usually have some time to shoot video.  Bulls are known to destroy young trees with their antlers.  As I mentioned earlier, this is how they turn them from bone white to chocolate brown.  I suppose they also do this to mark territory too.  Announcing to smaller bulls that they are not alone!

This video shows this bull destroying this small white pine while answering bugling from adjacent fields.

American Elk

 

Here are a couple photos I made between video clips.  I saved them until you've watched the video so I wouldn't give away how much he tore up the tree.
PA Elk (Sept, 2017)PA Elk (Sept, 2017)

 

PA Elk (Sept, 2017)PA Elk (Sept, 2017)

 

During all of that commotion, one of the calves paused for a portrait.

PA Elk (Sept, 2017)PA Elk (Sept, 2017)

 

That ended a fantastic day spent with good photographer friends and plenty of elk.  I told Tom "if I don't see any more elk this rut, I will still be happy."  Little did I know that statement would nearly come true.

A few days later, the heat rolled in.  Temperatures reached nearly 90 degrees on days that previous years required a layering of clothing to keep you warm in the morning and evening.  It was time for the Facebook club, Benezette Elk Camera Club, to hold their fall picnic.  It is always held to coincide with the rut.

Elena and I plan a three-day mini-vacation in Benezette during this time.  We knew the heat would affect the photography but the overall experience would still be great.  Our first day there produced no photo opportunities until the end of the day.  We met at Tom Dorsey's camp for an evening around the fire talking about the lack of elk during good light.  We probably solved some world problems that evening too.  The sun was below the mountains when a few elk entered the field below the camp.  The one bull was pretty big so I decided to try some night photography.  I pushed the sensitivity on my camera (ISO) to 12,800 and my shutter speed was below 1/100th second.  Only a couple photos were sharp because the bull stood absolutely still during a bugle.

PA Elk (Sept, 2017)PA Elk (Sept, 2017)

 

The photo opportunities did not get any better the next day.  I found this spike, still in velvet, feeding in a turnip plot. PA Elk (Sept, 2017)PA Elk (Sept, 2017)

 

Me_Fern_Tom_BenezetteMe_Fern_Tom_Benezette

As I mentioned earlier, this trip is not just about elk.  We have a group of friends sharing the same interests and this provides a reason to meet up and talk about elk, photography equipment, experiment with astrophotography in the darkness of the Benezette skies, and I cannot leave out the inevitable joking around.

This year, Fernando Trujillo, a friend Tom and I made during last years' Conowingo Dam Bald Eagle photo trip, made a five plus hour journey to join us for the weekend.  We felt bad for him because the heat took away what would have been an awesome elk experience. Elena snapped this cell phone photo of us after breakfast at the Old Bull Cafe.

Even with the lack of elk, I think the overall experience got him hooked.  We'll get 'em next year Fern!

Heat remained in the forecast so Elena and I decided to leave elk country a day early.

About a week later, the rut was only beginning to slow down so I accompanied my friend Jake Dingel back to Benezette.  The morning produced some action before the elk retreated into the woods.  Below is a short video of this foggy morning.  After the dominant bull took his cows into the woods, another bull tried to catch one of the remaining cows.  During the video, you can hear the dominant bull bugling in the woods.  The video ends with a bull we found on the sunny hilltop of Winslow Hill.

American Elk

 

As you saw in the video, the difference between the foggy valley and Winslow Hill was extreme.

Winslow Hill CabinWinslow Hill Cabin

 

When the bugling stopped, Jake and I made a few stops in Elk Forest to photograph songbirds.  We were expecting migrating warblers as well as some wintering birds. Below is a Ruby-crowned Kinglet just as it was jumping into flight.

Ruby-crowned KingletRuby-crowned Kinglet

 

The sun lit up this female Eastern Towhee in front of the dark shadows of the forest.

Eastern TowheeEastern TowheeFemale

 

The Blackpoll Warbler is one I missed during the spring migration.  We found one on this day.

Blackpoll WarblerBlackpoll Warbler

 

The Ovenbird is usually heard before it is seen.  We caught a glimpse of this one on a tree limb for a few seconds.

OvenbirdOvenbird

 

Last spring, I photographed my first Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.  They were adult males and females.  On this day, Jake and I found a juvenile.

Yellow-bellied SapsuckerYellow-bellied SapsuckerJuvenile

 

Black-capped Chickadee's are very popular in Pennsylvania, especially during winter.  Along with Tufted Titmouse, they are frequent visitors to backyard bird feeders.  Here is a portrait of one that came very close.

Black-capped ChickadeeBlack-capped Chickadee

 

As our quest for birds was coming to an end, we noticed this unusual rock formation.  I posted this photo on a Facebook group called "Rocks, Fossils & Minerals Identification" for some expert help.  There were a lot of comments and opinions that I'm not going to get into here.  I'll just leave it as "nature is awesome!"

Rock FormationRock FormationNear trail head of Fred's Trail

 

We met up with Tom for an early dinner at the Benezette Hotel before beginning an evening of hunting elk.  This time, we decided to stay in the woods since that seems to be where the elk wanted to be.  As we found our positions, we managed to see a few elk.

PA Elk (Oct, 2017)PA Elk (Oct, 2017)

 

As the sun set, the elk began to pass us on their way to the fields where they will eat.

PA Elk (Oct, 2017)PA Elk (Oct, 2017)

 

Some were a little slower than others or maybe they weren't as hungry.

PA Elk (Oct, 2017)PA Elk (Oct, 2017)

 

It was nearly too dark to shoot when we saw this bull who Tom immediately dubbed "Bullwinkle".

PA Elk (Oct, 2017)PA Elk (Oct, 2017)

 

I'll end this photo blog with one more video.  These clips are from the evening I just described to you.  It gives you an idea of an elk's evening from rest to rut.

American Elk

 

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) american elk benezette black-capped chickadee blackpoll warbler eastern towhee elk county kinglet" ovenbird ruby-crowned winslow hill yellow-bellied sapsucker https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/10/2017-pa-elk-rut-photography-affected-by-summer-heat Sun, 29 Oct 2017 19:30:16 GMT
End of Summer Transitions of the White-tailed Deer https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/10/end-of-summer-transitions-of-the-white-tailed-deer The end of summer brings on many changes in the White-tailed Deer, especially the male, also called a buck.  As their antlers grow during the summer, bucks live alone or join bachelor groups.  Female deer (doe) and their babies (fawns) remain a family unit for up to a year or until the doe gives birth the next spring.  In late summer, the does and fawns are plentiful in the fields at dusk. 

This doe was crossing a field of Queen Anne's Lace to get to her fawns waiting at the edge.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

As the deer begin to shed their summer coat and their brown-gray winter coat grows, the velvet on the buck begins to die and get rubbed off.  That is when things start to happen.

The winter coat of this albino deer will remain white but the velvet begins to be shed as expected.  If you look closely, you can see blood on his left ear where the velvet has begun to come off.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed DeerAlbino

 

Many people would argue that this is a leucistic deer and not an albino deer.  Let's explore the differences.

Albinism is caused when they have little or no melanin in their bodies.  The hair is white because it lacks pigment and the skin appears to be pink because the flowing blood shows through the deer's pale skin. They generally have pink eyes but they sometimes have pale blue eyes.  Albinism negatively affects their eyesight as well.

Leucism is a condition in which there is partial loss of pigmentation resulting in white, pale, or patchy fur.  Patchy fur is referred to as Pie-bald.  Leucism does not affect the eyes or nose so the eyes remain brown and the nose remains black.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed DeerAlbino

 

Below is a short video of the albino buck and others enjoying soy bean leaves. White-tailed Deer

 

Because of the pink skin that is very noticeable on the ears and nose and the pale blue eyes, it's hard to deny he is an albino.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed DeerAlbino

 

During this time of year, the food source begins to change and testosterone begins to build.  As the bucks shed their velvet, the bachelor groups begin to disband.  All the deer you enjoyed watching the past few months are no longer easy to find.  As fall approaches, the fields of soy bean plants and other plants the deer love begin to yellow and acorns begin to drop.  Their feeding patterns change from the fields to oak trees growing throughout the forest.  The dense forest will give them more cover as they feed on their favorite fall harvest.

The life span of an albino deer is shorter than a normal colored deer.  One reason is that they cannot hide as well and predators can find them easier.  In the photo below, the albino has completed his shed but the small buck next to him is still in the process of rubbing it off.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed DeerAlbino

 

As velvet sheds, they do not tolerate humans as much and they move more cautiously.  A short three weeks ago you could pull off to the side of the road in your car to watch big deer munching on Soy Bean leaves.  Now, they are simply not the same deer.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

All of the photographs in this blog were made in very low light.  Camera shutter speeds were slowed and ISO (sensitivity level of the camera's sensor) was set much higher than I normally set it.  Results were not always the best as I recorded many blurry ears and tails swishing at the flies and blurry lower jaws as they chewed the soy bean leaves.  I am happy to get what I got and I am equally thrilled to be able to share these beautiful animals with you.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed DeerAlbino

 

The photo below is an example of everything I said above.  I found this lone buck one evening exiting the woods were I was set up in a blind.  He was heading toward a huge oak tree where the acorns were already hitting the ground.  His coat is in transition between his summer and winter coat and his remaining velvet is barely hanging on.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

Seeing an albino deer is a rarity so I made four or five visits to the area he was known to feed.  There were several other deer in the area and a few really big bucks.  The really big bucks didn't get that way by being friendly.  I don't have any photos because they didn't take too kindly to me lifting a Canon (600mm lens) through the window of my vehicle.

I think the white-tailed Deer is one of the most beautiful animals roaming the earth.  Although the antlered deer are what we're watching for as the mating season gets closer, I still spend time photographing the females and their little ones too.  This next photo is a doe and her two fawns.  Although the spots have faded as their winter coat comes in, they are still noticeably smaller than mom.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

This little guy still has some spots remaining.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

I love photographing animal behavior.  Unfortunately, I don't have time to do enough of it.  Animal Behavior photography, in my opinion, is photography of wildlife in their natural setting without interrupting their activities and hopefully, discrete enough that they don't know you are there.  Let's face it, you may be able to be hidden for a short time but animals have keen senses and discover anything that is different.  At that point, our best hope is that you are hidden well enough that you don't pose a threat.

Photographing from a vehicle is a perfect example.  Deer see a lot of vehicles drive by and never look up from their feeding.  That makes vehicles a good blind as long as you remain in it.

I feel so fortunate when I am lucky enough to witness interaction between wildlife and their babies or even the show of affection like these two fawns grooming each other.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

Here are a few more shots of the bucks feeding in the soy bean field.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed DeerAlbino

 

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

I couldn't take my eyes, or my lens, off the two fawns in the back of the field.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

The grooming continued.  Doesn't it look like they are giving each other a hug?

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

Did you know that a deer's vision is better at night than it is during the day?  Also, the colors green, orange, and red appear as shades of gray to the deer.  I don't know that I would like that!

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

September is a time of pre-rut where testosterone builds in the males and hormones escalate in the females.  Many bucks begin to "feel each other out" by sparring.  Sparring is not an all-out dominance fight but more of an action of pushing each other around.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

It was getting very dark when I made this photograph.  Most of my photos were blurry but I managed to save a couple like the one below.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

When it gets too dark for photos I switch to video until it gets too dark.  This video contains clips of bucks sparring along the woodland edge.  There were several cars or trucks that drove by during these clips and a few stopped to watch.  Unfortunately, most people leave their car running so my microphone picks that up.  Hopefully, you can ignore the annoying background noise.

White-tailed Deer

 

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) albino white-tailed deer https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/10/end-of-summer-transitions-of-the-white-tailed-deer Sun, 15 Oct 2017 20:39:02 GMT
End of Summer Wildlife Never Fails https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/10/end-of-summer-wildlife-never-fails According to the calendar, autumn has arrived.  If you’ve walked outside of your northeast home lately, you’ve noticed it still feels like August.  With temperatures in the 80’s, we humans make the appropriate adjustments to enjoy the prolonged “summer”.  Wildlife and nature, on the other hand, keeps doing what it does in October.

Goldenrod is in bloom, Pokeweed berries are ripening, many wildflowers turned to seed, the sweet and bitter fruits and nuts are ripening into nutrition to be eaten and cached by wildlife, and finally, the deep greens of our summer foliage has begun to turn into yellow and red hues across our landscape.

I have been consumed with Elk, White-tailed Deer, and fall songbird migration photography lately but in the process, there are always special moments and sights to capture in my camera.  This photo blog is a compilation of photos and a short video displaying wildlife and nature seen during my time “in the field” the last couple months.

I hope you enjoy these late summer photographs such as this Gray Catbird perched in the, yet-to-ripen, Pokeweed plant.

Gray CatbirdGray Catbird

 

The setting sun is like a spotlight on the thin ears of the Cottontail Rabbit.

Cottontail RabbitCottontail Rabbit

 

When we bought this property 20 years ago, I was happy to find it is in the middle of several Eastern Black Walnut trees.  Yes, they are messy but I don't have to pick up the fallen fruit.  My yard is a popular place in the fall when all the neighborhood Gray Squirrels come to gather nuts. I put down lime on certain parts of my lawn to reduce the acidity from the husks the squirrels leave behind.  Keeping the trees is the least I can do to help them through the winter.

Eastern Gray SquirrelEastern Gray Squirrel

 

This bird nesting box has been empty for several months now but this Tufted Titmouse had to check if anyone was home.

Tufted TitmouseTufted Titmouse

 

Elena and I were in Benezette for a long weekend to photograph the Elk rut.  It happened to be during a hot and dry stretch of weather.  It affected photography of the rut because the heat would force the elk into the woods earlier in the morning and keep them in there longer in the evening.  It wasn't a great weekend for elk photography but I did grab a few interesting shots of other topics.

Here is a Cedar Waxwing perched on a Pokeweed plant.

Cedar WaxwingCedar Waxwing

 

If you've ever been to Benezette, or any mountainous area for that matter, you will realize that the morning usually greets you with heavy fog.  Of course, fog leaves behind dew.

When the sun finally emerged this one morning in Benezette, we were greeted by several hundred dew drenched spider webs glistening in the fields.

Below is a photograph of a Banded Garden Spider and an interesting tidbit I found about web construction from the Department of Entomology at Penn State University.

"A behavioral study of web construction determined that the majority of Argiope trifasciata orient their webs along an east-to-west axis. The spiders hang head-down in the center of the web with their abdomens facing south. Since the underside (venter) of the spider is mostly black, the orientation of both web and spider is believed to maximize solar radiation for heat gain—an important consideration for spiders that are active late in the year."

Morning dew on the web of a female Banded Garden SpiderMorning dew on the web of a female Banded Garden SpiderBanded Garden Spider (Female)

 

Waiting for elk to emerge in the evening can be a snoozefest if you let it happen.  Instead, I watched several Monarch butterflies visiting the flowering Goldenrod that dappled the landscape.  The journey in front of this butterfly is amazing when you think about it.  The monarch is this large-winged insect that weighs 1/2 gram or less and seems to be at the mercy of whichever way the wind is blowing.  The journey it is on will take him to the final destination of Mexico or southern California where it is warm year round. 

Monarch Butterfly on GoldenrodMonarch Butterfly on Goldenrod

 

On one of my more productive elk visits to Benezette I got to spend the day with my good friend Tom Dorsey, who lives in that region of the state.  After spending a very good morning with the elk, Tom took me on a tour of many of the back roads through the mountains and Elk State Forest.  Once Tom drove us out of the area I am familiar with, I had no idea where I was.  By the way, I keep mentioning elk with no photos.  The elk photos will be in an upcoming blog about my experiences during the 2017 elk rut.

Close to the end of my tour, Tom took me to a place called Shaggers Inn Pond.  It is tucked away in the forest of Clearfield County.  We spent about an hour there watching the birds including a Bald Eagle all the way down in size to fall songbirds chirping in the bushes. Shaggers Inn PondShaggers Inn PondClearfield County, PA

 

Back in western Pennsylvania, wildlife photography opportunities continue.  One day, I spotted a few Wild Turkey and several of their poults (babies).  The field grasses were too high to photograph the poults so here is one of the adults.

Wild TurkeyWild Turkey

 

One day, while photographing birds in my back yard, I saw this Gray Squirrel sitting in the fork of a tree gnawing the husk from the fruit of one of my Eastern Black Walnut trees.

Eastern Gray SquirrelEastern Gray Squirrel

 

I have a trail cam that I move around my backyard to see how my bird feeders get emptied over night and see what might be coming in to get a drink or bath at the fish pond.  All summer, I've had two Raccoons visit now and then.  So far, my fish have been safe.  One morning, I noticed one of the Raccoons in a large, hollow maple tree that was here long before we were.  It was very early in the morning and I think he was ready for a day of napping.

RaccoonRaccoon

 

He found a spot to relax.

RaccoonRaccoon

 

I'd like to share a short video of clips made in my backyard.  I love to watch the American Goldfinsh pulling seeds from the dried Echinacea flower. Also in the video is the Gray Squirrel peeling the husk from a walnut you saw earlier in this blog.  And, of course, I have to share video of the Raccoon in the tree.

 

One evening my friend, Jake Dingel, and I went out looking for White-tailed Deer.  We were hoping to find them in the process of shedding their velvet.  On our way past a marsh, we spotted a Green Heron perched on a stump in the water.  We stopped and photographed the bird.

Green HeronGreen Heron

 

The heron caught me off guard when he lunged to make a catch and I didn't get any photos worth sharing.  This photo was after he returned to the stump with a small frog.

Green HeronGreen Heron

 

I wish I had my macro lens instead of only the 600mm when I saw this Praying Mantis.  It could be a little sharper but it is still worth sharing.

 

One Saturday morning, after reports of a rare Sabine's Gull being seen at a lake about an hour away in Clarion County, Elena and I decided to go see the bird.  Unfortunately, the day before was the last time it was seen as it continued on its migration.  

During our wait at the lake, we spotted several fall warblers that I will share in an upcoming photo blog.  We also got to watch this Osprey dive into the water and retrieve a fish.  Unfortunately, the wind was blowing into our face and since birds land, take off, and fish into the wind, its back was toward us the whole time.  The only photos I have to share are after the catch, like the one below.

OspreyOsprey

 

That's all for now.  I hope you enjoyed this series of photos.  Soon I will be sharing photos of White-tailed Deer and the American Elk herd in Pennsylvania. I hope you check back soon. 

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) american goldfinch banded garden spider cedar waxwing cottontail rabbit eastern gray squirrel gray catbird green heron monarch butterfly osprey praying mantis raccoon shaggers pond tufted titmouse wild turkey https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/10/end-of-summer-wildlife-never-fails Sun, 08 Oct 2017 21:24:00 GMT
A Morning at the Marsh https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/8/a-morning-at-the-marsh August brings about another kind of migration to the northeast region of the United States.  Shorebirds begin to make their yearly trek toward their winter homes.  The Lake Erie shore attracts many of these shorebirds and one particular beach in northern Ohio is one of them.  Not only does the beach at Conneaut, Ohio have the Lake Erie shoreline, there is also a large sand bar containing a mud flat (when it’s not flooded) and a photography friendly marshland.

The sand bar is a two hour drive for me so I don’t go very often, especially since most of the birds have lost their colorful breeding plumage.  However, it is a good place to see a nice variety of birds.

In this photo blog, I’m going to show you a very difficult bird to find, our smallest heron, the Least Bittern.  Then, I’ll share a few photos of a bird that has managed to avoid my camera lens until this year, the American Avocet. Then I’ll share a video containing clips of the Least Bittern, American Avocet, and more.

The Least Bittern is very well camouflaged, making it one of the most difficult North American marsh birds to spot. 

Least BitternLeast BitternFemale

 

The least bitten measures between 11 and 14 inches in length with its neck outstretched.  When in a relaxed position, I’m guessing they are half of that.

Least BitternLeast BitternMale

 

The Least Bittern uses its long neck to search for and catch prey without leaving the perch.  If you look closely, you can see the target on the Spatterdock leaf, a dragonfly.

Least BitternLeast BitternMale

 

Least BitternLeast BitternMale

 

The Least Bittern eats mostly small fish (such as minnows, sunfishes, and perch) and large insects (dragonflies and others); also crayfish, leeches, frogs, tadpoles, small snakes, and other items.

Least BitternLeast BitternMale

 

In this photo, this female bittern just caught a dragonfly nymph.  (A dragonfly’s life span is about one year with very little of that time being spent as an adult dragonfly. A dragonfly nymph is the middle, and longest, stage between the egg and adulthood.  During the nymph stage, they spend their time underwater so, unless you witness a Least Bittern catch one for a snack, you seldom see them.)

Least BitternLeast BitternFemale

 

Bittern can feed in water that is too deep for them to walk in because of their habit of straddling reeds.

Least BitternLeast BitternMale

 

Least BitternLeast BitternMale

 

As I mentioned earlier, the Least Bittern is our smallest heron measuring between 11 and 14.2 inches in length.  Even with a wingspan of 16 - 18 inches, it only weighs between 1.8 – 3.6 ounces.

Least BitternLeast BitternMale

 

The Least Bittern has adapted for life in dense marshes.  As I previously mentioned, rather than wading in the water like larger herons, they move about the marsh clinging onto cattails and reeds with their long toes.  It slips its thin body through even the most thickest marshes.

Least BitternLeast BitternMale

 

Least BitternLeast BitternMale

 

Because of its preferred habitat, it often goes unseen except when it flies.  Perhaps the only way you will know one is nearby is because you hear its cooing and clucking call notes.  However, sometimes you can find them in the open such as these bitterns I found hunting on the Spatterdock.

Least BitternLeast BitternMale

 

Least BitternLeast BitternMale

 

Until this day I’ve never seen an American Avocet. I was really happy to see at least one come to my shore today.  At 16.9 to 18.5 inches in length, they are a lot larger than I thought they were.

American AvocetAmerican AvocetLate Summer Plumage

 

Probably the most distinguishing mark of an American Avocet is their long, upturned bill.  I would love to see one of these beautiful birds in the spring when they are in breeding plumage.  In the photo below you can still see the fading rust color of its neck.

American AvocetAmerican AvocetLate Summer Plumage

 

This avocet stayed at the edge of the shoreline, however, they do prefer shallow water and large mudflats.

American AvocetAmerican AvocetLate Summer Plumage

 

Their diet consists mostly of small crustaceans and insects, also some seeds. They feed by walking through the water with the tips of their bills in the water and slightly open.  They filter food items from below the water surface.

American AvocetAmerican AvocetLate Summer Plumage

 

During migration, the birds need to eat and sleep during their stopovers.  This avocet was preening for a little while and its eyes were beginning to close in the warm sun.

American AvocetAmerican AvocetLate Summer Plumage

 

American AvocetAmerican AvocetLate Summer Plumage

 

We had an interesting visitor one morning.  As I and a small group of photographers and birders waited for the Least Bittern to venture into the open, this immature Great Blue Heron walked up on us and wasn't afraid at all.

Great Blue HeronGreat Blue HeronJuvenile

 

As I promised, here is a short video of some of the birds that can be found in a marsh.

Shore & Marsh Birds

 

I hope you enjoyed this little compilation of photos from Conneaut, OH.  There's always an adventure waiting around the next turn. 

See you there,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) american avocet american bittern great blue heron https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/8/a-morning-at-the-marsh Wed, 30 Aug 2017 00:12:18 GMT
My Warblers of Spring, 2017 https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/7/my-warblers-of-spring-2017 I hope you have enjoyed the recent short blog posts highlighting some of the rare or seldom seem warblers in the western Pennsylvania region.  It was a great, but tiring, spring season.  Juggling work and home life, I managed to get out to photograph warblers on weekend mornings and evenings and a few vacation days here and there during the month of May.

I realize many readers have never seen some of these birds and that is a benefit of what I do.  If you are able, I hope these photos encourage you to get out in nature and enjoy yourself.  There is no happier moment than when you are out in nature, worries and concerns set aside, watching these little beauties decorate your world from the ground to the tree tops.

Sadly, many of these birds you are about to see are falling victim to human "progress".  Urban development, among other things, are causing habitat loss in their breeding grounds.  Breeding habitat is very specific for our songbirds.  They can't simply go to the next standing tree or shrub!  Steps of conservation are being taken but will it be enough?  We, as shepherds of this land, need to be more concerned with the results of our actions in regards to wildlife.

I hope you enjoy the photos of the 28 species of warbler I photographed this spring.  I thought I had 29 species until I found out about the reclassification of the Yellow-breasted Chat.  I included him in the end of this blog for ol times sake.

Maybe these photos will encourage you to make plans to learn more about these little beauties and become more active in their future.

American Redstart  
American RedstartAmerican RedstartMale American RedstartAmerican RedstartMale

 

Black-and-white Warbler

 
Black-and-white WarblerBlack-and-white WarblerMale Black-and-white WarblerBlack-and-white Warbler

 

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Black-throated Blue WarblerBlack-throated Blue WarblerMale

 

Black-throated Green Warbler

 
Black-throated Green WarblerBlack-throated Green WarblerMale Black-throated Green WarblerBlack-throated Green WarblerMale

 

Blackburnian Warbler

 
Blackburnian WarblerBlackburnian WarblerMale Blackburnian WarblerBlackburnian WarblerMale

 

Blue-winged Warbler

 
Blue-winged WarblerBlue-winged WarblerMale Blue-winged WarblerBlue-winged WarblerMale

 

Canada Warbler

 
Canada WarblerCanada WarblerMale Canada WarblerCanada WarblerMale

 

Cape May Warbler

Cape May WarblerCape May WarblerMale

 

Cerulean Warbler

 
Cerulean WarblerCerulean Warbler Cerulean WarblerCerulean Warbler

 

Chestnut-sided Warbler

 
Chestnut-sided WarblerChestnut-sided WarblerMale Chestnut-sided WarblerChestnut-sided WarblerMale

 

Common Yellowthroat

 
Common YellowthroatCommon YellowthroatMale Common YellowthroatCommon Yellowthroat

 

Golden-winged Warbler

 
Golden-winged WarblerGolden-winged WarblerMale Golden-winged WarblerGolden-winged WarblerMale

 

Hooded Warbler

 
Hooded WarblerHooded Warbler Hooded WarblerHooded Warbler

 

Kentucky Warbler

 
Kentucky WarblerKentucky WarblerMale

 

Louisiana Waterthrush

 
Louisiana WaterthrushLouisiana Waterthrush Louisiana WaterthrushLouisiana Waterthrush

 

Magnolia Warbler

 
Magnolia WarblerMagnolia WarblerMale Magnolia WarblerMagnolia WarblerMale

 

Mourning Warbler

 
Mourning WarblerMourning WarblerMale Mourning WarblerMourning WarblerMale

 

Nashville Warbler

Nashville WarblerNashville Warbler

 

Northern Parula

 
Northern ParulaNorthern Parula Northern ParulaNorthern Parula

 

Ovenbird

 
OvenbirdOvenbird OvenbirdOvenbird

 

Palm Warbler

 
Palm WarblerPalm Warbler  

 

Pine Warbler

 
Pine WarblerPine WarblerMale Pine WarblerPine WarblerMale

 

Prairie Warbler

 
Prairie WarblerPrairie WarblerMale Prairie WarblerPrairie WarblerMale

 

Prothonotary Warbler

 
Prothonotary WarblerProthonotary WarblerMale Prothonotary WarblerProthonotary Warbler

 

Worm-eating Warbler

 
Worm-eating WarblerWorm-eating Warbler Worm-eating WarblerWorm-eating Warbler

 

Yellow Warbler

 
Yellow WarblerYellow WarblerMale Yellow WarblerYellow WarblerFemale

 

Yellow-rumped Warbler

 
Yellow-rumped WarblerYellow-rumped WarblerMale Yellow-rumped WarblerYellow-rumped Warbler

 

Yellow-throated  Warbler

 
Yellow-throated WarblerYellow-throated Warbler Yellow-throated WarblerYellow-throated Warbler

 

Yellow-breasted Chat

 
Yellow-breasted ChatYellow-breasted ChatMale (Black Lores) Yellow-breasted ChatYellow-breasted ChatMale (Black Lores)

 

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) american redstart black-and-white warbler blackburnian warbler black-throated blue warbler black-throated green warbler blue-winged warbler canada warbler cape may warbler cerulean warbler chestnut-sided warbler common yellowthroat golden-winged warbler hooded warbler kentucky warbler louisiana waterthrush magnolia warbler mourning warbler nashville warbler northern parula ovenbird palm warbler pine warbler prairie warbler prothonotary warbler worm-eating warbler yellow warbler yellow-breasted chat yellow-rumped warbler yellow-throated warbler https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/7/my-warblers-of-spring-2017 Wed, 19 Jul 2017 23:11:11 GMT
Yellow-breasted Chat: A Warbler Reclassified https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/7/yellow-breasted-chat-our-largest-warbler The Yellow-breasted Chat is the largest of our warblers.  At least it was our largest warbler.  After writing the original version of this blog I found out the warbler classification of the Yellow-breasted Chat is in jeopardy because of several changes being proposed by the the American Ornithological Society's North and Middle American Classification Committee.  Here is a partial quote from the proposal.  "The Yellow-breasted Chat is no longer part of the wood-warbler family, Parulidae, and gets its own family Icteriidae, not be confused with the blackbird family Icteridae."  Well, the change is official and if you care to read about it, you can here.

Regardless of its classification, the Yellow-breasted Chat is a pretty cool bird.  If you hope to see one, you better look in the spring while the male is singing for a mate or protecting his territory because they are fairly quiet the rest of the summer.

Yellow-breasted ChatYellow-breasted ChatMale (Black Lores)

 

As you can see in the range map below, the chat is a widespread breeder across North America and they migrate all the way into Central America for the winter.  On their breeding grounds during the summer months, they prefer shrubby thickets and other dense habitats. 

YellowBreastedChatRangeMapYellowBreastedChatRangeMap Yellow-breasted ChatYellow-breasted ChatMale (Black Lores)

 

I would like to describe their calls but I cannot say it better than the description on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.  Here is their description: "Males have a large repertoire of songs made up of whistles, cackles, mews, catcalls, caw notes, chuckles, rattles, squawks, gurgles, and pops, which they repeat and string together with great variety".

Yellow-breasted ChatYellow-breasted ChatMale (Black Lores)

 

One of the fun moments of bird photography is when the bird sits on a branch for an extended period of time and preens.  The preening session usually ends with a total body fluff-up like this male is doing in the next photograph.  Notice the black coloration in the region between the eye and the nostrils?  That area is called the lores.  A male chat has black lores and the female has gray lores. Yellow-breasted ChatYellow-breasted ChatMale (Black Lores)

 

I mentioned earlier in this blog that the chat is the largest of all warblers.  They are large and bulky compared to other warblers and they have a long tail, large head and a thick, heavy bill.

Yellow-breasted ChatYellow-breasted ChatMale (Black Lores)

 

Although the Yellow-breasted Chat's population has declined in parts of the southwest, their population is mostly stable.  As more eastern forests are being cleared to create brushy habitat, their population has been increasing.  Keep in mind when I refer to "forests being cleared" I don't mean for urban development.  That doesn't help their population at all.  Clearing forests is a good thing when old growth is logged out creating habitat for many birds that prefer new-growth areas.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) yellow-breasted chat https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/7/yellow-breasted-chat-our-largest-warbler Mon, 17 Jul 2017 00:52:01 GMT
Indigo Bunting: A Scrap of Sky With Wings https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/7/indigo-bunting-a-scrap-of-sky-with-wings Sometimes called “Blue Canaries”, the Indigo Bunting sings on the highest perch all spring and summer.  When I want to photograph Indigo Buntings, I visit any weedy fields or shrubby areas near woods and listen.  Eventually, one will come along.

 

A male Indigo Bunting will sing as many as 200 songs per hour at dawn and about one per minute for the rest of the day.  Many times birders refer to a bird’s song in the English language.  If you were to do that for an Indigo Bunting, it would be "what! what! where? where? see it! see it!" repeated in pairs.

 

While watching the male and waiting for him to return, I saw a flash of brown in the weeds.  It was holding its wings out slightly while vibrating its wings and making a buzzing sound. To me, it looked like a young male waiting to be fed.  As I photographed him, the adult flew into the shot.

 

I would have expected the adult to have a morsel of food but I guess he just came in to the calls of the youngster.

 

The plain brown females are seen much less often.  They need to be inconspicuous because they do most of the work caring for the eggs and young which are hidden in dense thickets.  This one came in and out of the thicket a few times.

 

In the shadows, the male Indigo Bunting looks much darker.  Why?  This bird’s feathers does not contain any blue pigment.  The structure of the feathers diffracts light so that we see only the color blue.  So, the amount of light changes our perception of the color of an Indigo Bunting.

 

Indigo Buntings eat small seeds, berries, buds, and insects.  The female reappeared and this time had an insect in her beak.  Interestingly, she didn’t eat it or offer it to the male.  Instead, she flit from perch to perch with the insect in her mouth.

 

The male looked very interested in something.  Usually, they fly around in a large circle but today he was staying in a tight loop.

 

Finally, I saw the reason for the peculiar actions.  They had a nestling that climbed the branch to get up where it could see more.

 

Once I saw the little bunting, I decided to leave and not disturb them anymore.  They obviously wanted to feed their baby but not while I was there.  I was happy to give it space.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) indigo bunting https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/7/indigo-bunting-a-scrap-of-sky-with-wings Tue, 11 Jul 2017 22:31:13 GMT
Ma and Pa Gomola Go To Benezette https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/7/ma-and-pa-gomola-go-to-benezette

You probably have to be Baby Boomer or older to understand the reference in the title of this photo blog.  We didn't have quite the antics that Ma and Pa Kettle had when they visited town but it was an eventful evening.

On Sunday, July 2nd, Elena and I went to Benezette for the evening. After kicking around the shops a little bit, we had dinner at the Benezette Hotel and headed for State Game Lands 311 known as "The Saddle" to photograph grassland birds. The Saddle was full of Eastern Meadowlark and most were juvenile. They all stayed pretty far away. I managed some nice photos of a rare Pennsylvania visitor/breeding resident, the Dickcissel.

It was a lot of fun photographing these birds because every time I was going to quit, the light would change and I'd have to get photos in the new light.  After the customary singing photos, I tried catching some as they landed on a perch.

DickcisselDickcisselMale

 

The Dickcissel is a breeding bird of the prairie grasslands of the mid-west but sometimes they venture a little further east than normal and we find them in western Pennsylvania.

DickcisselDickcisselMale

 

A huge cloud covered the sun for about 10 minutes and I loved the soft light it offered.

DickcisselDickcisselMale

 

The sun was getting low and the Dickcissel perched in a budding Pokeweed plant.

DickcisselDickcisselMale

 

Here is a 47 second video of a male Dickcissel singing.  If you listen carefully you can hear Meadowlark in the background.

Dickcissel

 

Another bird of the grassland is the Savannah Sparrow.

Savannah SparrowSavannah SparrowMale

 

On our way out of town I spotted a bull elk deep in the shadows. ISO went up and shutter speed went down but I managed a couple sharp pics.

PA Elk (Jul, 2017)PA Elk (Jul, 2017)

 

He stopped to rub his antlers in the tree branches.  There was some really cool pics to be made but my shutter speed was too slow.  When I went to see world famous wildlife photographer, Charles Glatzer, speak last year, he made one suggestion that everyone should adhere to regarding shooting in near darkness.  It went something like this: "Raise the iso to raise the shutter speed and deal with the noise in post processing because a blurry photo isn't worth anything".  I should have done that.

PA Elk (Jul, 2017)PA Elk (Jul, 2017)

 

Further down the road in the mountains surrounding Benezette we spotted a Black Bear raiding someone's bird feeder.

Black BearBlack BearElk County, PA

 

After she cleaned up the bird seed she headed back into the woods.  She gave me one last look on the way.

Black BearBlack BearElk County, PA

 

All in all, it was a great day. I forgot to mention that I almost stepped on a 5 foot long Rat Snake because I was paying more attention to the fields than I was of the trail but it moved and I jumped and all ended well.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) American Elk Black Bear Dickcissel Savannah Sparrow https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/7/ma-and-pa-gomola-go-to-benezette Sat, 08 Jul 2017 00:33:13 GMT
Magnolia Warbler: Former Black-and-yellow Warbler https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/7/magnolia-warbler-former-black-and-yellow-warbler The Magnolia Warbler, hands down, is one of the most beautiful warblers.  While other birds have their distinct markings, the Magnolia Warbler has them all.  He is loaded with features like bold white eyebrows, an elegant necklace, bright yellow rump, belly and chin and a dark mask.

Magnolia WarblerMagnolia WarblerMale

 

Even though this bird is very small and active, they are not as difficult to spot as other warblers because they often stay low to the ground providing opportunities for photography.

Magnolia WarblerMagnolia WarblerMale

 

In 1810, a pioneer ornithologist named Alexander Wilson found this species in a Magnolia tree in Mississippi and is credited with its name.  He actually used the name "Black-and-yellow Warbler" as its English name and "Magnolia" for the Latin species name.  Over time, Magnolia has become the common name.

Magnolia WarblerMagnolia WarblerMale

 

I had a lot of success finding Magnolia Warblers this year.  If you look in low growth, coniferous stands or mixed forest, you just may see a Magnolia Warbler for yourself.

Magnolia WarblerMagnolia WarblerMale

 

The Magnolia Warbler migrates at night.  In the spring and fall, most fly across the Gulf of Mexico where they winter in Mexico, Central America, West Indies, and most commonly in Yucatan Peninsula.  Strays have been known to reach the west coast during the spring and especially fall migration.

 
Magnolia WarblerMagnolia WarblerMale MagnoliaWarblerRangeMapMagnoliaWarblerRangeMap

 

During the summer, in the north woods, they favor second-growth habitats.  Their numbers are actually reported as stable or increases in certain areas.  One reason contributing to their increase is their ability to adapt to second-growth woods and cut-over areas.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Magnolia Warbler https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/7/magnolia-warbler-former-black-and-yellow-warbler Wed, 05 Jul 2017 22:21:32 GMT
Mournig Warbler Leaves Me Wanting More https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/6/mournig-warbler-leaves-me-wanting-more The Mourning Warbler seldom leaves the protection of their dense habitat and they tend to sing only on their breeding grounds.  Even though they can be common in some locations, they are much less frequently seen.  This May, me, Elena, and friends Tom Dorsey, Tony Bruno, and Jake Dingel made a few trips, not always together, into the Allegheny National Forest in search of Mourning Warbler habitat.  We were lucky to find some occupied by a Mourning Warbler or two. Mourning WarblerMourning WarblerMale

 

On one trip, Elena and I found a Mourning Warbler at one location and he showed himself for about five seconds in the thicket in front of me.  We waited several minutes and he didn't return so we moved on.  The next location was a little better.  A male appeared and spent about 10 minutes flitting between fallen limbs that were laying on the ground after loggers took the forest they needed.

Mourning WarblerMourning WarblerMale

 

You can see in the map below that the lower end of their breeding territory extends into northern Pennsylvania.

Mourning WarblerMourning WarblerMale MourningWarblerRangeMapMourningWarblerRangeMap

 

Pioneering ornithologist Alexander Wilson claimed the dark "hood" and black breast patch reminded him of someone in mourning. Mourning WarblerMourning WarblerMale

 

This little male continued to fly back and forth.  Apparently, I didn't come close to a nest because both male and female Mourning Warblers pretend to have broken wings to distract predators that come too close to their nest. Mourning WarblerMourning WarblerMale

 

The Mourning Warbler is not as vulnerable to loss of habitat as other warblers.  Logging of old growth forests provide exactly the habitat they need to breed.  According to reports from the National Audubon Society, current numbers are stable.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Mourning Warbler https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/6/mournig-warbler-leaves-me-wanting-more Mon, 26 Jun 2017 23:06:06 GMT
Prothonotary Warbler: A Golden Ray of Light https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/6/prothonotary-warbler-a-golden-ray-of-light The Prothonotary Warbler, often called a "swamp warbler" in the southeast, are usually found in the dim understory of woodland swamps.  They have been described as "a golden ray of light" as they jump around the branches searching for insects.  As you will see in the following images, that is exactly where I photographed this little male. Prothonotary WarblerProthonotary WarblerMale

 

Although the range map below doesn't show it, there are breeding Prothonotary Warblers in the state of Pennsylvania.  They are only one of two warblers that nest in holes in standing dead trees.  The Lucy's Warbler is the other but since they live in far southwestern United States, I'm not going to find any of those in Pennsylvania.

Prothonotary WarblerProthonotary WarblerMale ProthonotaryWarblerRangeMapProthonotaryWarblerRangeMap

 

Do you know how the Prothonotary Warbler got its name?  They got their name from the bright yellow robes worn by papal clerks, known as prothonotaries, in the Roman Catholic church. Prothonotary WarblerProthonotary WarblerMale

 

All of the adult Prothonotary Warblers that I photographed have dark, wet looking feathers on their crown where they should have bright yellow feathers like the rest of their head.  The reason is not certain but some people have said it is because of their method of hunting for insects.  They look under leaves and reach in for the insect so water touches their heads, making them wet.  Another idea is that certain plants have a sap textured secretion from their leaves and the sap gets on their head while hunting and stains the feathers. 

Prothonotary WarblerProthonotary WarblerMale

 

I watched this Prothonotary Warbler hunting for quite a while and smiled at the positions he got into while looking for insects.

Prothonotary WarblerProthonotary WarblerMale

 

The conservation status of the Prothonotary Warbler is better than other warblers but they are still on the decline.  The clearing of swamp forests in the south have affected their breeding range.  Elsewhere, birdhouses have helped them remain fairly common.

Well, that's it for the Prothonotary Warbler photo blog.  If you would like to see more photos that I didn't include in the post, you can check them out in the Prothonotary Warbler gallery of my website.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Prothonotary Warbler https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/6/prothonotary-warbler-a-golden-ray-of-light Thu, 22 Jun 2017 19:55:26 GMT
Kentucky Warbler: Usually Heard but Not Seen https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/6/kentucky-warbler-usually-heard-but-not-seen On my quest of photographing warblers this spring I did have the opportunity to photograph a few seldom seen, or rare birds.  I decided to single out a few species because of their rarity and/or their beauty.  The first photo blog, published on June 4th, was about the Golden-winged Warbler.  Today's photo blog is about the Kentucky Warbler.

The Kentucky Warbler is a small, brightly colored warbler whose loud song can be heard in the undergrowth of eastern deciduous forests.  They spend most of their time on the ground in moist, leafy woodlands searching for insects.  Despite its bright colors, the dark shadows of the forest keeps them well hidden. Kentucky WarblerKentucky WarblerMale

 

I was so fortunate to find a male Kentucky Warbler on a few occasions and photograph them in the middle of their song.  You can see in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's range map below, northern Pennsylvania nears the end of the Kentucky Warbler's breeding range.  Prior to 1940, the Kentucky Warbler's breeding range ended in southern Pennsylvania but the creation of breeding habitats expanded their range.

Kentucky WarblerKentucky WarblerMale KentuckyWarblerRangeMapKentuckyWarblerRangeMap

The main diet of the Kentucky Warbler consists of various insects including moths, bugs, ants, grasshoppers, beetles, caterpillars, aphids, grubs, and spiders, plus a few berries. Kentucky WarblerKentucky WarblerMale

 

I was able to get some images of this beauty on the edge of some pretty thick shrubs along a large tract of deciduous forest. Kentucky WarblerKentucky WarblerMale

 

We in Pennsylvania get to enjoy the presence of the Kentucky Warbler for another two months.  They begin to leave their breeding ground in August.

Kentucky WarblerKentucky WarblerMale

 

The Kentucky Warbler sings a loud springtime song but he usually sings from a secluded perch.  When you hear him sing, it's hard to believe they are such a shy and elusive bird.

Kentucky WarblerKentucky Warbler

 

Their survival story isn't much different from other beautiful warblers on this planet.  This species is declining and one reason is the clearing of forests.  Loss of habitat is also happening on their wintering grounds.  As forests are broken up into smaller patches, they become vulnerable to cowbird parasitism.  Brown-headed Cowbirds do not raise their own young.  Instead, they lay their eggs in other species' nests allowing them to be raised by the other species.  There are several reasons parasitism hurts the survival of the other species of birds like the Kentucky Warbler.

If you would like to see more photo of Kentucky Warblers, check out my Kentucky Warbler gallery here.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Kentucky Warbler https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/6/kentucky-warbler-usually-heard-but-not-seen Mon, 19 Jun 2017 23:23:38 GMT
The Enjoyment of May and June Wildlife https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/6/the-enjoyment-of-may-and-june-wildlife I was so busy in May and the first half of June photographing birds in the Warbler family.  I'm sad that it's past but I'm also a little relieved because it required a lot of travel to get some new species.  I will share the "fruits of my labor" in upcoming photo blogs but right now, I want to share many of the other encounters with wildlife that I enjoyed along the way.

Not going to be much reading in this one folks.  I hope you enjoy these bonus photos as much as I enjoyed making them.

Black-billed Cuckoo (Centre County, PA) - Typically a treetop dweller, I was happy when this Black-billed Cuckoo came low enough for a decent photo. Black-billed CuckooBlack-billed Cuckoo

 

Black-crowned Night-Heron (Ottawa County, OH)  - I photographed this Black-crowned Night-Heron in mid-day with a high, bright sun.  Definitely not a choice I would make if I had any kind of clout with the wildlife. Ha ha!  Apparently, they don't care what I want!  Anyway, I watched him sit on a log for an hour or so before he decided to take a flight over the water to relieve himself and return.  I don't know about other birds but these ones don't "poop" where they hunt for food.  I was glad he had to go because it gave me an opportunity for some action photos. Black-crowned Night-HeronBlack-crowned Night-Heron

 

Black-crowned Night-Heron (Ottawa County, OH) - In breeding season adults have two long white plumes on their heads. They are evident in the photo below.  Black-crowned night herons don't have adult plumage until they are about three years old. Black-crowned Night-HeronBlack-crowned Night-Heron

 

Black-crowned Night-Heron (Ottawa County, OH) - I have several more photos from this series.  If you are interested, you can view them in my Avian/Heron/Black-crowned Night-Heron gallery. Black-crowned Night-HeronBlack-crowned Night-Heron

 

Bobolink (Lawrence County, PA) - I found several Bobolink mixed with Meadowlark and some sparrows.  The photo below is the female Bobolink.

BobolinkBobolinkFemale

 

Bobolink (Lawrence County, PA) - Here is the male Bobolink in breeding plumage. BobolinkBobolinkMale

 

Common Grackle (Ottawa County, OH) - Known to be a poor but spirited singer, the Common Grackle has to be proud of their iridescent plumage. Common GrackleCommon Grackle

 

Dunlin (Ottawa County, OH) -  First time I ever photographed this little shorebird DunlinDunlin

 

Dunlin (Ottawa County, OH) - Mirror, Mirror! DunlinDunlin

 

Eastern Towhee (Butler County, PA) - A vocal resident of our summer forest.  It's a special photo opportunity when you can find the male and female together in one frame. Eastern TowheeEastern TowheeMale & Female

 

Greater Yellowlegs (Ottawa County, OH) - Taking a break on a mound in the marsh. Greater YellowlegsGreater Yellowlegs

 

Green Heron (Centre County, PA) Green HeronGreen Heron

 

Green Heron chicks (Crawford County, PA) - A friend called me about a Green Heron nest in a nearby yard.  Height and leaves made photography difficult but it was neat to see. Green HeronGreen HeronNestling

 

Henslow's Sparrow (Clarion County, PA) Henslow's SparrowHenslow's Sparrow

 

Hermit Thrush (Forest County, PA) - The Hermit Thrush has an interesting courtship behavior.  For the first two days after arriving to his springtime breeding grounds, he attacks and chases the female.  If she remains beyond the two days, a union is formed. Hermit ThrushHermit Thrush

 

Philadelphia Vireo (Ottawa County, OH) - This guy looks very much like the Warbling Vireo pictured later in this photo blog.  The most noticeable difference is the yellow wash on the chin and chest of the Philadelphia Vireo.

Philadelphia VireoPhiladelphia Vireo

 

Raccoon (Ottawa County, OH) - Magee Marsh has more than birds. RaccoonRaccoon

 

Red Squirrel (Butler County, PA) Red SquirrelRed Squirrel

 

Red-headed Woodpecker (Mahoning County, OH) - Parks and golf courses are a good place to find this species of woodpecker.  I found them on a golf course in an Ohio Metro Park.  This one was looking for worms on the ground. Red-headed WoodpeckerRed-headed Woodpecker

 

Red-headed Woodpecker (Mahoning County, OH) - I think this is one of the most beautiful reds in nature. Red-headed WoodpeckerRed-headed Woodpecker

 

Red-winged Blackbird (Lawrence County, PA) - Even though they are plentiful, it's fun to capture a portrait showing his colors. Red-winged BlackbirdRed-winged BlackbirdMale

 

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Forest County, PA) - He just appeared.  I had my back turned and I heard a chink sound that sounded like a sneaker on a gym floor.  I finally looked to see who was doing all the talking and there he was.  He must have heard a photographer was in town! Rose-breasted GrosbeakRose-breasted GrosbeakMale

 

Ruddy Turnstone (Ottawa County, OH) - There are about 350 species of shorebirds in the world, but there are only 2 turnstones, the Ruddy Turnstone and the Black Turnstone, both of which occur in North America.  This one had his face buried in the pebbles of the Lake Erie shore when a wave came in. Ruddy TurnstoneRuddy TurnstoneMale

 

Ruddy Turnstone (Ottawa County, OH) - The turnstone gets its name from its habit of turning over stones when it looks for food. It is also sometimes called the seaweed bird because it often feeds among the kelp at low tide.

Ruddy TurnstoneRuddy TurnstoneMale

 

Scarlet Tanager Male (Indiana County, PA) - A beautiful tanager with a difficult plumage color to photograph.  The light needs to be just right to correctly expose the male Scarlet Tanager. Some of my photographs depict a bright red to an orange at times.  It really doesn't matter.  It's just a pleasure to see a Scarlet Tanager in branches low enough for a portrait. Scarlet TanagerScarlet TanagerMale

 

Scarlet Tanager Female (Indiana County, PA) - Sometimes a guy can get lucky and have the mating pair show themselves.  Too bad they weren't in the same frame like the Eastern Towhee earlier in this photo blog. Scarlet TanagerScarlet TanagerFemale

 

Tree Swallow (Ottawa County, OH) - There were several Tree Swallow nesting trees located at Magee Marsh. Tree SwallowTree Swallow

 

Warbling Vireo (Ottawa County, OH) - Looks like a warbler except for the beak. Warbling VireoWarbling Vireo

 

White-tailed Deer (Jefferson County, PA) - This doe was crossing a gas line cut over the hills.  The fawn was so small I had to wait for it to get into shorter grass to see it. White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed DeerDoe with fawn

 

White-tailed Deer (Jefferson County, PA) - Another view as they turned up the hill. White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed DeerDoe with fawn

 

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Female (Forest County, PA) - This spring is the first time I ever photographed a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.  The sapsucker is in the woodpecker family. Yellow-bellied SapsuckerYellow-bellied SapsuckerFemale (White Chin)

 

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Male (Forest County, PA) - The irregular rhythm of sapsucker drumming reminds a person of the beat of Morse Code. Yellow-bellied SapsuckerYellow-bellied SapsuckerMale (Red Chin)

 

Well, that's it for now.  I saw all that wildlife while in search of warblers.  During all those travels, I wonder what was hiding in the bushes that I didn't see.  Hmmm, I think I'll have to go back!

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Black-billed Cuckoo Black-crowned Night-Heron Bobolink Common Grackle Dunlin Eastern Towhee Greater Yellowlegs Green Heron Henslow's Sparrow Hermit Thrush Philadelphia Vireo Raccoon Red Squirrel Red-headed Woodpecker Red-winged Blackbird Rose-breasted Grosbeak Ruddy Turnstone Scarlet Tanager Tree Swallow Warbling Vireo White-tailed Deer Yellow-bellied Sapsucker https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/6/the-enjoyment-of-may-and-june-wildlife Thu, 15 Jun 2017 23:14:16 GMT
Golden-winged Warbler: A Golden Opportunity https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/6/golden-winged-warbler-a-golden-opportunity The Golden-winged Warbler is a gorgeous species of wood warbler.  Its rarity and threatened existence makes it a great find for birders and wildlife photographers.  I had a wonderful and extremely fortunate opportunity to photograph Golden-winged Warblers on two occasions this spring.  I hope you enjoy these photographs because it is a bird you may never see unless you are in the correct habitat and are specifically looking for it.

The Golden-winged Warbler is a slivery-gray bird with a golden crown and wing accents.  Males have a bold black-and-white face pattern.  Females are similar but lack the black face and bib.

Golden-winged WarblerGolden-winged WarblerMale

Blue-winged WarblerBlue-winged WarblerMale

 

Once common in the northeast, the Golden-winged has been declining recently in southern parts of its breeding range. As it disappears, its close relative the Blue-winged Warbler has been advancing north. It is not completely understood why the Blue-winged is driving the Golden-winged out of the best habitats.

Hybridization is another element in the sharp decline of Golden-winged Warblers.  The Blue-winged Warbler is a much more aggressive and dominant bird.  These two species are known to hybridize where they share breeding grounds.  Their hybrid offspring are known as a “Brewster’s” Warbler and “Lawrence’s” Warbler.  Sorry, I don’t have photos of a hybrid to share.  However, here is a brief description of the two hybrids as explained on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website. “These can be variable, but “Brewster’s” Warbler is mostly gray and white with a yellow forehead, like a Golden-winged Warbler, but has a black line through the eye instead of the stronger face pattern of the Golden-winged. “Lawrence’s” Warbler has yellow overall, like a Blue-winged, but shows the Golden-winged Warbler’s black mask and throat patch.”

Back to the Golden-winged Warbler. 

Golden-winged WarblerGolden-winged WarblerMale

 

This beautiful species breed in dense, tangled, shrubby habitats such as regenerating clearcuts, wet thickets, and tamarack bogs.  Tamarack is a very cold tolerant evergreen also known as Hackmatack, Eastern Larch, Black Larch, Red Larch, American Larch, or Juniper. Wildfires, flooding from beaver dams, and tornado destruction are a few ways shrubby openings amid a forested landscape are created.  Once their young have fledged, they move into nearby woodlands. Golden-winged WarblerGolden-winged WarblerMale

 

In the early 20th century, habitat for the Golden-winged Warbler was common when settlers cleared land for homes and farming.  Many of those areas have grown back into forests.  Wildfires and beaver dams are more controlled these days preventing natural habitat to be formed.

Golden-winged WarblerGolden-winged WarblerMale

 

With about half of the global Golden-winged Warbler population being in Minnesota, I realize how fortunate I am to have spent some time photographing them.

Golden-winged WarblerGolden-winged WarblerMale

GoldenWingedWarblerRangeMapGoldenWingedWarblerRangeMap

 

 

At only 5.1 inches long and weighing a mere 0.3 - 0.4 ounces, they make it all the way to open woodlands and shade-coffee plantations of mountainous Central and South America for the winter.

 

You can see in the range map to the left the Golden-winged Warbler is a long-distance migrant. With migration movement peaking in September, they travel south mainly through a corridor of states east of the Mississippi River and west of the Appalachians. Spring migration and their return north begins in April but they don't arrive in Pennsylvania until early May.

 

Golden-winged WarblerGolden-winged WarblerMale

 

Golden-winged Warblers often hop along branches of brushy and shrubby areas, carefully checking each leaf for prey, even sometimes dangling off the edges of branches like a chickadee.

Golden-winged WarblerGolden-winged WarblerMale Golden-winged WarblerGolden-winged WarblerMale

 

So what are they searching for?  Food items they prefer are caterpillars, spiders, moths and other insects.  Leafroller caterpillars appear to be an important food source.   Golden-winged Warblers probe with their sharp bills into rolled-up leaves to find the hidden caterpillars.  They rarely catch insects while in flight.

Golden-winged WarblerGolden-winged WarblerMale

 

Males sing a loud, very distinguishable, buzzy song from the tops of shrubs in spring and early summer.  Interestingly, hybrids do not sing their own songs.  Instead they sing either normal Blue-winged Warbler songs, Golden-winged Warbler songs, or both.  One thing I needed to be aware of when I was searching the correct habitat of Golden-winged Warblers was I couldn’t rely on song for a positive identification.  Sometimes, pure-looking parental types sing the "wrong" song.  The Golden-winged in the photo below was singing the correct song for his species.

Golden-winged WarblerGolden-winged WarblerMale

 

Males are extremely vocal for 3 to 4 weeks at the start of their breeding season.  They will confront other males in their territory, sometimes actually fighting. Golden-winged WarblerGolden-winged WarblerMale

 

Only after territories and mates are selected do they become secretive and quiet.

Golden-winged WarblerGolden-winged WarblerMale Golden-winged WarblerGolden-winged WarblerMale

 

Are you interested in their nesting activity?  The female Golden-winged builds the nest, usually on the ground.  The nest is built at the base of a plant with a tall thick stem such as Golden Rod or Blackberry for support.  The base is made up of leaves and long strips of bark from a grapevine or arrowwood.  Nests are 3.5 to 6 inches across and 1 to 2.5 inches deep.  The female is very sensitive.  If disturbed, they are known to abandon their nest even after the first eggs have been laid. They will also try to trick predators.  As a decoy, they will carry food to places other than their nest.

Golden-winged WarblerGolden-winged WarblerMale Golden-winged WarblerGolden-winged WarblerMale

 

The Audubon Society has a climate model that projects a shift of their breeding range completely out of their current breeding range by 2080.  The summer range is expected to more than double thankfully to efforts of creating second-growth habitats.  Since it doesn’t take long for the habitat to become established, there is hope that the Golden-winged Warbler will move with the climate space.  There is more good news amongst all the sad news of their declining population. 

Cornell Lab and their partners in the Golden-winged Warbler Working Group have a conservation plan to stop their decline and continue to grow the population by 50% by the year 2050. Golden-winged WarblerGolden-winged WarblerMale

 

These warblers will be around throughout my lifetime but I sure hope, with preservation efforts in place, children of today and all future generations will be able to enjoy these birds too.

Here is another example displaying their habits of hanging upside down from the end of tree limbs.  This time he is singing his song.

Golden-winged WarblerGolden-winged WarblerMale

 

Research for this photo blog included Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Audubon Society, Birds of Pennsylvania, and Stokes Field Guide to Warblers.  Photography equipment used was a Canon EOS-1DX MK II and a Canon EF 600mm f/4L II USM Lens.  In some photos I may have also used a Canon Extender EF 1.4X III rendering a f/5.6, 840mm focal length.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Golden-winged Warbler https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/6/golden-winged-warbler-a-golden-opportunity Sun, 04 Jun 2017 23:39:37 GMT
A Brief Lake Erie Shore Morning https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/5/a-brief-erie-shore-morning In the second half of April, the Lake Erie shoreline in Conneaut, Ohio had a special visitor called an American White Pelican.  I wanted to make the 2.5 hour trip several times but timing never worked out for me.  Finally I had a free morning and with a sighting within the previous 24 hours, I was pretty hopeful that I was going to come home with American White Pelican photographs.

It wasn’t meant to be.  While waiting for a pelican sighting, I had several other species of birds to photograph so the day was not lost.

Upon arriving to the shore, I noticed this juvenile Bald Eagle walking along the beach in an area where dead fish wash up on the sand. Bald EagleBald EagleJuvenile

 

I’ve photographed Caspian Tern many times at Conneaut but this day was going to be special.  There was a flock of probably 200 Caspian Tern.  Well, let’s face it, 150 tern and 350 tern look pretty much the same when they are flying around.  Let’s just say there were a lot.  I held the shutter button down when several of them took off at one time. Caspian TernCaspian Tern

 

If I was looking for a quiet, soothing day at the shore, I was badly mistaken.  The Caspian Tern wanted to vocalize.  Usually, many at once. Caspian TernCaspian Tern

 

There was a lot more than raspy squawking going on.  These two were preparing to mate right in front of all the other terns. Caspian TernCaspian Tern

 

You would think the previous photo would make the other tern jealous.  Seems like flying by with a fish in your mouth causes more excitement. Caspian TernCaspian Tern

 

Because I don’t get to see many species of tern, I still need to look some up to confirm identification.  I almost dismissed this smaller tern that was there in very few numbers.  There were about three Forster’s Tern mixed in with the Caspian Tern.  While the northeastern United States is in the migration path of the Caspian Tern, range maps show the Forster’s Tern is not. Forster's TernForster's Tern

 

I mentioned earlier that a fish causes quite a ruckus when it’s being paraded around the flock in the mouth of a Caspian Tern. Caspian TernCaspian Tern

 

It was fun to watch how the other tern reacted when the “owner of the fish” came close by.  Some vocalized while others tried to steal the food. Caspian TernCaspian Tern

Caspian TernCaspian Tern

Caspian TernCaspian Tern

 

Once I saw the Forster’s Tern in flight, I knew I had something special.  I’ll be honest, I still didn’t know what it was.  I wish I would have spent more time photographing this rare find but the next few images are the last ones I got before it flew to another part of the beach and I ran out of time.

Now I know the forked tail is the major identifying mark of a Forster's Tern. Forster's TernForster's Tern

Forster's TernForster's Tern

Forster's TernForster's Tern

 

One of my last sights before leaving the beach that morning was an immature Ring-billed Gull catching a fish.  Well, that’s not really a big deal.  It was interesting because the fish was too big for the gull to lift off.  Using its wings, it swam about 30 yards to the shoreline in front of me stopping and covering its prey every time another bird flew past. Ring-billed GullRing-billed GullImmature

 

Double-crested Cormorants are a skittish bird.  I spotted this lone cormorant on a large pond near the harbor so I stopped for a few photos. Double-crested CormorantDouble-crested Cormorant

Double-crested CormorantDouble-crested Cormorant

 

That ended my morning watching for the American White Pelican.  Maybe next time I’ll react a little quicker when another one migrates off-track and visits a near-by shore.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Bald Eagle Caspian Tern Double-crested Cormorant Forster's Tern Ring-billed Gull https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/5/a-brief-erie-shore-morning Tue, 30 May 2017 22:11:06 GMT
Bald Eagle Eaglet: Two Weeks Later https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/5/bald-eagle-eaglet-two-weeks-later The Bald Eagle nesting season is almost over in western Pennsylvania.  I thought this is a good time to reflect on two separate visits I made to an Ohio nest about 65 miles west of the Pennsylvania border.

This nest is very unique because the nest tree is situated on a hillside below the road giving birders and photographers a short 70 yard view into the bole of the nest.

On my first visit the single eaglet was a mere two weeks old. Bald EagleBald EagleFemale and Eaglet

 

While one adult was away from the nest most of the time, the mate was usually on the nest or perched nearby.  Here is a rare occurrence when the eaglet was alone and gave its wings a stretch. Bald EagleBald EagleEaglet

 

Below is the male sitting on the nest with the eaglet. Normally, you can identify the female because she is larger than the male.  that is true but this female also has a darkening behind and around her eyes. You will see that in later photos. Bald EagleBald EagleMale and Eaglet

 

The quality of care a Bald Eagle provides for its young is impressive.  Here is “Dear Ol’ Dad” giving warmth to the inquisitive eaglet. Bald EagleBald EagleMale and Eaglet

 

I think the eaglet feels safe with its father. Bald EagleBald EagleMale and Eaglet

Bald EagleBald EagleMale and Eaglet

 

At this age, eaglets are fed quite often.  I imaging it’s because their little bellies can’t hold much food.  Dad was already on the nest when his mate arrived with a half eaten fish. Bald EagleBald EagleMale, Female (behind) and Eaglet down in nest

 

Shortly after mom arrives, the male leaves the nest.

Bald EagleBald EagleMale, Female and eaglet down in nest

 

It’s time for a feeding.

Bald EagleBald EagleFemale feeding Eaglet

 

That was the end of my first visit.  I planned a return soon to see how much the eaglet grew.

I did return to the nest site two weeks later when the eaglet was four weeks old.  Look at the difference in size in a short two weeks.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Even though it was much larger, it is still dependent on an adult to tear apart the food.  The next photo is mom feeding the eaglet.

Bald EagleBald EagleFemale and Eaglet

 

After feeding, the adult fluffs up the grasses in the bole and lays down on top of the eaglet usually causing the eaglet to rest and maybe go to sleep.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Sometimes the eaglet may take a nap and sometimes it stays alert.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

It is comical watching the eaglet maneuver around the nest because it hasn’t grown into its feet yet.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

It will be quite some time until these wings are large enough and strong enough to take it soaring into the sky.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

At this age, it seemed like a change of guardian occurred every 2 hours. Bald EagleBald EagleFemale and Male in nest.

 

Here is mom and eaglet sitting on the nest.

Bald EagleBald EagleFemale and Eaglet

 

I imagine it can get boring waiting for the eaglet to grow up and fledge the nest. 

Bald EagleBald EagleFemale and Eaglet

 

After a nap, it’s feeding time.

Bald EagleBald EagleFemale and Eaglet

 

When the eaglet was two weeks old, I decided to shoot video of the eaglet being fed.  As I was adding a 2X extender to my 600mm prime lens, they finished feeding.  As I began the video, I captured the “after feeding” activity of the parent showing how they prepare the bole for nap time. The second part of this video was recorded two weeks later when the eaglet was four weeks old.  This time I did capture the eaglet being fed.

Click the link below to start the video.  It may take 10 seconds or so to buffer so please be patient after you press start. Bald Eagle

 

Now that the eaglet is getting larger, it gets a little more alone time on the nest.  Below is a photo of the female leaving the nest in route to a nearby branch.

Bald EagleBald EagleFemale

Bald EagleBald EagleFemale

 

She spent nearly 45 minutes alone on the branch. 

Bald EagleBald EagleFemale

 

As her mate approached the nest, she left her perch to explore the surrounding countryside.

Bald EagleBald EagleFemale

 

It was dad’s turn to babysit.

Bald EagleBald EagleMale and Eaglet

 

I’ll wrap up this photo blog with a portrait of the eaglet with its father.

Bald EagleBald EagleMale and Eaglet

 

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Bald Eagle https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/5/bald-eagle-eaglet-two-weeks-later Thu, 18 May 2017 23:00:05 GMT
Great Horned Owl: One of Pennsylvania's Earliest Nesters https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/5/great-horned-owl-earliest-nesters

The Great Horned Owl is one of the most common owls in North America and just about any other semi-open habitat between the Arctic and the tropics.  In Pennsylvania, they are one of the first birds to begin laying eggs in the new year.

This year, I had the opportunity to watch two nests of Great Horned Owls.  One was in Butler County, Pennsylvania and the other at Presque Isle State Park in Erie, Pennsylvania.  I was able to visit the Butler County nest frequently but I only made two trips to Erie.  During the two times I was there, I logged about 14 hours in front of the nest.

Below is a photo of the hen owl incubating eggs on February 11th at Presque Isle. Great-horned OwlGreat-horned OwlPresque Isle in Erie, PA

 

Great Horned Owls typically nest in tall trees such as cottonwood, juniper, beech, pine, and others.  Unlike other birds, who painstakingly carry branches and twigs to build a nest, the Great Horned Owl usually adopts a nest that was built by another species.  They also use cavities in live trees, dead snags, deserted buildings, cliff ledges, and human-made platforms.

At the Butler County nest on February 20th, the hen appears to be incubating.

Great-horned OwlGreat-horned OwlButler County, PA

 

Because they reuse old nests, they often consist of sticks and vary widely in size.  The size depends on what species originally built the nest.  Some nests they have been known to occupy were from hawks, crows, ravens, herons, and squirrels.  Great Horned Owls do "make the nest their own" by lining it with materials such as shreds of bark, leaves, downy feathers plucked from their own breast, fur or feathers from prey, and trampled pellets.

Hen on the Butler County nest on February 24th. 

Great-horned OwlGreat-horned OwlButler County, PA

 

Speaking of adopting the nests of other birds, I witnessed a very obvious example of that in April, 2013.  While visiting a local Heron Rookery I noticed a strange formation in one of the nests.  After a closer look, I realized it was two Great Horned Owl nestlings.  Since the owl picks their nest much earlier than the heron, they were mixed into the colony.  Talk about keeping your enemies close. Great Horned Owl Nestlings & Great Blue HeronGreat Horned Owl Nestlings & Great Blue HeronThe Great Horned Owl nests mostly in stick nests from other birds. These Owletes are in the middle of a Great Blue Heron rookery.

 

The Great Horned Owl is a powerful predator that can take down birds and mammals larger than itself but they also attack smaller targets such as mice and frogs. 

 

On this March 12th visit, I got my first glimpse of the owlet as it was getting attention from the hen.  The remaining images are from Butler County until I note a change.

Great-horned OwlGreat-horned OwlButler County, PA

 

The warm sunlight of March 12th was comforting for the sleepy hen.

Great-horned OwlGreat-horned OwlButler County, PA

 

As the evening of March 13th was upon us, the sun disappeared and the hen became more active.  She was beginning to make short flights away from the nest.

Great-horned OwlGreat-horned OwlButler County, PA

 

I stayed at the nest all evening on March 16th with hopes of seeing the growing baby.  It showed itself but I had to reposition myself to get a good view.

Great-horned OwlGreat-horned OwlButler County, PA

 

The location of this nest was positioned in good photography sunlight only about one hour in the evening.  Otherwise, it came from undesirable directions causing shadows.  I returned on March 22nd in hopes to find the owlet covered in sunlight.

Great-horned OwlGreat-horned OwlButler County, PA

 

This photo was on March 25th minutes after the hen fed the baby.  You can see a little piece of meat still stuck on her beak.

Great-horned OwlGreat-horned OwlButler County, PA

 

After changing position once again, I got a great family portrait on March 25th.  I use the word "family" loosely because the father isn't in the photo.  I assure you he was a provider but I never saw him.  In the early evening he would call to the hen from deep in the woods.  She always responded but I never saw him.

Great-horned OwlGreat-horned OwlButler County, PA

 

As the owlet grew the hen was seldom in the nest.  However, she didn't perch nearby either.  The previous photo was the last time I saw the hen.  The next photo was made on March 27th.

Great-horned OwlGreat-horned OwlButler County, PA

 

Since these "used" nests deteriorate over the course of the breeding season and are usually not reused in later years, I look forward to next February to see if anything occupies this nest.

The lone owlet fledged within days after this April 5th photo.

Great-horned OwlGreat-horned OwlButler County, PA

 

Here is a short video compilation of the Butler County owl nest from February to late in the nesting season.

Great Horned Owl Nesting

 

Back to the nest in Erie, PA.  This nest is in the top of a dead tree stump.  The stump is about 20 feet tall and has been reused year after year.  I don't know its history but I know it's been at least three years that I've known about the nest.

The remaining photos were made on my last trip to Presque Ilse on April 14th.

This nest is in a location that provides an opportunity for anyone to witness the growth of Great Horned Owl nestlings.  Situated a short distance from a paved bike path it is easily wheelchair accessible.  The owls don't seem to mind and people respect the wildlife by keeping their distance.  Actually, you are not allowed to exit the path and "Big Brother" is watching.

Great-horned OwlGreat-horned OwlPresque Isle in Erie, PA

 

Speaking for myself, during the longs stays at the nest I am hoping for one thing.  I want to photograph interaction between the owlets or between a parent and the owlets.  That's it!  If I only wanted a portrait like the one above, I would be in and out in 30 minutes. 

It looks like the photographers and other onlookers might be a little boring for the owlets.

Great-horned OwlGreat-horned OwlPresque Isle in Erie, PA

 

The hen is usually found perching in a dense grove of Hemlock trees near the nest.  On this evening she came out and flew to a few different perches.

Great-horned OwlGreat-horned OwlPresque Isle in Erie, PA

 

From what I've heard, the hen is around the nest more than the male owl.  However, we were greeted by both on this day.  Below is the male perched at the opposite edge of the woods line.

Great-horned OwlGreat-horned OwlPresque Isle in Erie, PA

 

The growing owlets are comical and fun to watch.  I didn't shoot any video at this nest because there are too many people talking and I prefer to have a little seclusion for video.

Great-horned OwlGreat-horned OwlPresque Isle in Erie, PA

 

The sun had already set when the hen finally came to the nest.  The family didn't strike an award winning pose on the nest but I finally had the opportunity to see the hen with the owlets.  

Great-horned OwlGreat-horned OwlPresque Isle in Erie, PA

 

As the skies darkened, I managed one more photo while the hen was feeding in the corner of the nest.

Great-horned OwlGreat-horned OwlPresque Isle in Erie, PA

 

Both of these owlets fledged the nest within the first 5 days of May ending a successful breeding season once again.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Great Horned Owl https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/5/great-horned-owl-earliest-nesters Mon, 15 May 2017 01:21:38 GMT
Spring Wildlife of Pennsylvania https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/5/spring-wildlife-of-pennsylvania Each year during April and May I don't get enough sleep, I don't do as much around the yard, and I do a lot of traveling.  Why? It's because spring is here and wildlife photo opportunities are abundant. 

Most of my blogs have a theme or a story to tell but occasionally I just want to share some photos that shouldn't be missed.  I want to use this blog entry to share a variety of April and May wildlife photos.

This Eastern Gray Squirrel was peering at me from the safety of a tall walnut tree.

Eastern Gray SquirrelEastern Gray Squirrel

 

This was the first Eastern Towhee I saw this spring.  He was singing a lot.

Eastern TowheeEastern TowheeMale

 

We do have Common Loon in our surrounding lakes during the spring migration.

Common LoonCommon Loon

 

Common Loon are difficult to photograph without a blind.  If you get too close they dive underwater.  With the ability to stay under water over a minute in normal conditions, who knows how far away it will be when it surfaces. Common LoonCommon Loon

 

The Red-winged Blackbird is the harbinger of spring in western Pennsylvania.  Sounding off while displaying their "coat of arms" is a common springtime occurrence.

Red-winged BlackbirdRed-winged Blackbird

 

The Tree Swallow is commonly seen flying swiftly a couple feet above the water's surface searching for insects.  It's nice when they can be found sitting on a nice perch.

Tree SwallowTree Swallow

 

I love the colors of a Blue-winged Teal in flight.

Blue-winged TealBlue-winged TealDrake

 

I had several male Blue-winged Teal swimming around me on this day.

Blue-winged TealBlue-winged TealDrake

 

I had fun trying to capture them in flight.

Blue-winged TealBlue-winged TealDrake

 

The Northern Shoveler has a long, spoon-shaped bill which has comblike projections along its edges to filter out food from the water.

Northern ShovelerNorthern Shoveler

 

I have to admit that identifying sandpipers and sparrows is not my best skill.  This next photo is of a Pectoral Sandpiper.  It was the first time I ever photographed one so, in birder's terms, I got another "lifer".

Pectoral SandpiperPectoral Sandpiper

 

One identification mark of the Greater Yellowlegs is its long, upturned bill.

Greater YellowlegsGreater Yellowlegs

 

It hasn't been long since this guy dropped his antlers.  Before long, they will begin to grow again.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed DeerYoung Buck

 

I photographed this female House Sparrow in my backyard Redbud tree.  It adopted one of my bluebird nesting boxes.

House SparrowHouse SparrowFemale

 

Blue Jay in a Redbud tree.  I love the contrast of colors. Blue JayBlue Jay

 

I know of a Red Fox den but during the infrequent times I could get there, I was only treated with a visit by the vixen.

Red FoxRed FoxVixen

 

She laid in her spot for about 20 minutes before getting up and probably wondering why I'm still here.

Red FoxRed FoxVixen

 

After moving further back into the dense brush, she sat, gazing into the distance.

Red FoxRed FoxVixen

 

The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is a beautiful springtime songbird returning to nest in Pennsylvania.

Blue-gray GnatcatcherBlue-gray Gnatcatcher

 

Carolina Wren, one of the first birds I hear chirping before the sun comes up.

Carolina WrenCarolina Wren

 

I love the sweet song of an Eastern Meadowlark.  This was a special treat finding several in a field of Dandelion.

Eastern MeadowlarkEastern Meadowlark

 

Eastern MeadowlarkEastern Meadowlark

 

They are tough to capture in flight.

Eastern MeadowlarkEastern Meadowlark

 

The Northern Mockingbird is one of the best mimics in Pennsylvania.

Northern MockingbirdNorthern Mockingbird

 

This female Northern Flicker came by for a visit.  A male looks similar but he has a black Mustache under the eyes.

Northern FlickerNorthern FlickerFemale

 

American Goldfinch takes a break to sing. American GoldfinchAmerican Goldfinch

 

The secretive Virginia Rail usually stays hidden in dense vegetation of freshwater marshes. Virginia RailVirginia Rail

 

In order to flee predators, the Virginia Rail can swim under water, propelling itself with its wings. Virginia RailVirginia Rail

 

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) American Goldfinch Blue Jay Blue-winged Teal Carolina Wren Common Loon Eastern Meadowlark Eastern Towhee Glue-gray Gnatcatcher Gray Squirrel Greater Yellowlegs House Sparrow Northern Flicker Northern Mockingbird Northern Shoveler Pectoral Sandpiper Red Fox Red-winged Blackbird Tree Sparrow Virginia Rail White-tailed Deer https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/5/spring-wildlife-of-pennsylvania Tue, 09 May 2017 23:57:12 GMT
A Morning in the Marsh https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/4/a-morning-in-the-marsh It’s tough to get up at 6 AM Monday through Friday to go to work after getting to bed close to the midnight hour the night before.  By the weekend, your butt is dragging and the thought of sleeping in Saturday morning until 7 or 8 o’clock is really nice.  It doesn’t work that way if you like to photograph wildlife.

On Saturday, April 8th, my alarm sounded at 5 AM to signal the start of my day.  With sleepy eyes, I stumbled into the shower to help regain consciousness.  Once the numbness went away, I remembered why I was torturing myself like that.

Torture is a strong word to describe waking up early to set up in a photo blind along a marsh soon to be visited by various species of waterfowl.  It is amazing to have the likes of Wood Duck, Hooded Merganser, Bufflehead, Ring-necked Duck and other species swim within 20 feet of your lens while being unaware that you are there.

This photo blog documents one morning in April in a photo blind, at a marsh in Butler County, Pennsylvania.

I met up with my friend Jake Dingel before sunrise that Saturday morning and we entered the woods on our way to a marsh that is adjacent to a large pond.  Once we were set up in our separate photo blinds, we waited.  There were Canada Geese present on the pond already but it was too dark to get a quality photograph.  Besides, once they calmed down after our rude interruption, they floated around as though we were no longer there. 

Then the sun began to rise.

Canada GooseCanada Goose

 

Not long after we set up, waterfowl sightings began to increase.  In a darker section of the pond was a diving and resurfacing Pied-billed Grebe.

Pied-billed GrebePied-billed Grebe

 

After a short sit, the sun rose and lit up the pond in front of us.  Jake set up his blind on one side of the pond and keeping the sun behind me, I set up mine about 40 yards away.  Last years’ cattails separated our views of the water.

There were a few Ring-necked Ducks in the distance but they suddenly disappeared.  Then the Canada Geese became very vocal.  I received a text from Jake telling me to look in the big tree to the right of the pond.  This was the reason for the commotion. Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

There was about 15 minutes of quiet time until the Bald Eagle finally flew off.  With its nest being within ¼ mile from the pond, I could see it in the distance throughout the morning. 

With the eagle gone, activity began to pick up.  This Ring-necked Duck pair were diving for food and eventually came near me.  Notice the water on the head and bill of the female as she resurfaced.  The waxy layer of a duck’s feathers causes a connection between her and the water surface as the rest rolled off like “water marbles”.

Ring-necked DuckRing-necked DuckDrake & Hen

 

I had a brief few seconds as both drake and hen were on the surface together.

Ring-necked DuckRing-necked DuckDrake & Hen

 

The first Wood Ducks of the morning came into view across the pond.  After staying in a far section of the water, they swam close to a nesting box.  The female flew up to investigate.

Wood DuckWood DuckDrake & Hen

 

Over the course of the morning we saw several Wood Ducks.  They would fly in, swim around the pond, and fly out.  At one point a lone female Wood Duck landed on a stump in the water.

Wood DuckWood DuckHen

 

Thanks to long, strong claws, the Wood Duck is one of the few species that can perch on branches. They are the only duck native to the United States and Canada to have that ability.

Wood DuckWood DuckDrake & Hen

 

Most Wood Ducks were swimming in pairs or small rafts and occasionally, a male would go off by himself.

Wood DuckWood DuckDrake

 

Drake and hen Wood Ducks surrounded by emerging Spatterdock leaves.

Wood DuckWood DuckDrake & Hen

 

This small Canada Goose was getting chased around the pond all morning by mating pairs of geese.

Canada GooseCanada Goose

 

Finally, one of two pairs of Hooded Mergansers began to come our way.  They spent most of the morning completely across the pond.

Hooded MerganserHooded MerganserHen & Drake

 

By this time, there were several Wood Ducks spread across the pond.

Wood DuckWood DuckDrake

 

This is one happy fellow!

Wood DuckWood DuckDrake & two Hens

 

We had two female Buffleheads diving under the water all morning but there wasn't a male in sight.

BuffleheadBuffleheadHen

 

As the elusive Hooded Mergansers came closer, I had plenty of opportunity for portraits.

Hooded MerganserHooded MerganserHen

 

Hooded MerganserHooded MerganserHen

 

Sometimes, the Hooded Mergansers would swim to my right heading toward Jake’s blind.  Since cattails blocked his view, I’d text him to let him know they are coming and as soon as I pressed “send”, they would turn around and continue to entertain me.  At one point Jake texted me to say, “You must have minnows in your pocket?”

Hooded MerganserHooded MerganserDrake

 

Hooded MerganserHooded MerganserDrake

 

Hooded MerganserHooded MerganserDrake

 

This little female Wood Duck landed very close to my blind.  She spun around quickly and watched my blind for about 10 seconds before taking off.  This photo was made as she began to open her wings to take flight.

Wood DuckWood DuckHen

 

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Bald Eagle Bufflehead Canada Goose Hooded Merganser Pied-billed Grebe Wood Duck https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/4/a-morning-in-the-marsh Sat, 29 Apr 2017 20:04:55 GMT
Sky Dancing Ritual of the American Woodcock https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/4/sky-dancing-ritual-of-the-american-woodcock The American Woodcock, also known as the timberdoodle, Labrador twister, night partridge, and bog sucker, are a superbly camouflaged bird against the leaf litter of the forest floor.  While its subdued plumage and low-profile behavior make it hard to find, springtime is an exception.

WoodcockWoodcockPhotographed at night during mating ritual

 

A male woodcock’s evening display flights are one of the magical natural sights of springtime in the east.  Males sound off a buzzy peent call from a display area on the ground.  Then he flies upward in a wide spiral and his wings begin to twitter as he gets higher.  At a height of 200–350 feet the twittering becomes intermittent, and the bird starts to descend. He zigzags down in a steep dive back to the ground, chirping as he goes, landing silently near a female, if one is present.  Once on the ground, he resumes peenting and the display starts over again.

WoodcockWoodcockPhotographed at night during mating ritual

 

One evening in late March, my friend Jake Dingel and I set out to find the American Woodcock performing their mating display.  We were successful and made plans to return with our photography equipment within a couple days.  We returned two days later, joined by my wife Elena.  Since it is dark outside when the performance begins, a flashlight is needed to illuminate the bird so the camera is able to focus.  Elena did a great job locating and tracking the bird so we could photograph him.

After finding a lone male, we witnessed several performances over the next hour.  We were able to get a few photographs and video but unable to include flying shots.  Even in the daylight their fast flights would be difficult to capture so nighttime made it nearly impossible.  WoodcockWoodcockPhotographed at night during mating ritual

 

This video contains footage of the American Woodcock’s peent calls performed on the ground during their mating ritual activity.  Listen carefully to the sounds of a springtime American Woodcock.

American Woodcock

 

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) American Woodcock https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/4/sky-dancing-ritual-of-the-american-woodcock Mon, 24 Apr 2017 00:49:21 GMT
2017 Spring Waterfowl Migration In Full Swing https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/4/2017-spring-waterfowl-migration-begins I have written several blogs in the past sharing my spring waterfowl migration photos.  For them, I’ve researched various facts to share with the accompanied photos.  This photo blog entry is going to be a little different.  Since these are all subjects I have written about in the past, I’m going to make this one easy on the mind.  Yours and mine!

All of these photographs were made on a bright, sunny day in northwest Pennsylvania.  Wild ducks are afraid of humans and you cannot walk up to them to get closeup portraits.  This kind of wildlife photography takes work and not simply a walk in a park. It is common to use your vehicle as a photo blind.  A vehicle doesn’t provide the lowest angle that one would hope for, getting the photographer at eye-level to the subject, but it is an acceptable tradeoff.  Sometimes, you have to take what you can get.  I hope you enjoy the photographs.

Sometimes, the Ring-necked Duck is mistaken for a Greater or Lesser Scaup.  One quick way to tell the difference is the scaups do not have a white ring on their bills.

Ring-necked DuckRing-necked DuckDrake

 

The drake Greater Scaup has a blue-gray bill with a black tip.

Greater ScaupGreater Scaup

 

The dabbling duck American Wigeon, is the New World counterpart of the Eurasian Wigeon.

American WigeonAmerican WigeonDrake

 

The American Wigeon has also been called “baldpate”.

American WigeonAmerican WigeonHen

 

A bird of open wetlands, the Northern Pintail is a brief visitor in Pennsylvania as they fly toward their breeding grounds in northern Canada.

Northern PintailNorthern PintailHen & Drake

 

The chestnut head with large iridescent green patch makes the drake Green-winged Teal easily identifiable.

Green-winged TealGreen-winged TealDrake

 

The Tundra Swan is completely snowy white.  The rusty-brown color sometimes seen on its head and neck is created by iron in marsh soils.

Tundra SwanTundra Swan

 

Here is a Northern Shoveler chasing the competition.  There always seem to be more males than females in the water.

Northern ShovelerNorthern Shoveler

 

These Northern Shovelers are showing a little more acceptance of each other.

Northern ShovelerNorthern Shoveler

 

Below is a small flock of Northern Pintails flying. 

Northern PintailNorthern PintailDrake/Hen/Drake

 

Northern Pintail drake finding a place to land.  Can you tell they are probably my favorite migrating duck?

Northern PintailNorthern PintailDrake

 

Should that line of waterfowl in the distance be concerned while the juvenile Bald Eagle, standing on the ice, stares at them?

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) American Wigeon Bald Eagle Greater Scaup Green-winged Teal Northern Pintail Northern Shoveler Ring-necked Duck Tundra Swan https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/4/2017-spring-waterfowl-migration-begins Wed, 19 Apr 2017 21:37:08 GMT
A Foggy Day Turned Snowy https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/4/a-foggy-day-turned-snowy Once November arrives, birders and wildlife photographers in western Pennsylvania begin to have hopes of seeing a Snowy Owl, our grand visitor from the north.  When the weather gets bad in Canada, Snowy Owls will begin to head south but only far enough to find food.  If you are lucky enough to find one, it will probably be a female or juvenile male.  The pure white males tend to stay back to the north.

In January, 2015, I wrote a blog called Follow Me to Gull Point.  In it I tried to take the readers on a journey to Gull Point at Presque Isle State Park in Erie, PA.  I researched a lot of Snowy Owl information for that blog so I'm not going to repeat it in this one.  If you would like to read Follow Me to Gull Point and learn Snowy Owl facts, click the link.

In this blog I'd like to tell the story of one day with a Snowy Owl.  Bear with me because most of the story needs to be told before the photos can be seen.

It was the beginning of March and winter was passing without having a Snowy Owl photo opportunity within reasonable driving distance.  Word got out in the birding world that there was a Snowy located on an Amish farm in Crawford County, about 1.5 hours away from me.  I gave it a few days to see if it was passing through or if I would actually have a chance to photograph this one.

Birding reports were posted daily that the owl was still being seen.  Crowds were beginning to gather daily and the owl was keeping its distance in the large expanse of fields.  The Amish family was very friendly and even had family members posted as locators for the bird so visitors didn't have to go searching for something that might be a small white spec in a distant field.  Birding ethics were displayed and monitored as to not stress the owl.  Nobody was allowed to approach the bird and everyone was being watched by the landowners and local birders.

Finally, on Sunday March 19th, my wife Elena and I decided to go photograph the owl.  As we drove north, the weather started getting worse.  The rain ended and cold air crept in below the warmer air, creating fog.  By the time we reached the farm it was fairly dark outside, there were only two vehicles there and the Snowy had flown over the crest of a hill and disappeared into the mist.  It was only 1:00 in the afternoon.

A couple country roads divide the large farm so we drove around for about 20 minutes with no luck of spotting the owl.  Finally, I parked at the same spot the owl was perched when we arrived.  Since we missed lunch, we began searching the GPS for a local restaurant.  A few minutes later a tractor pulled up beside me and the driver introduced himself as the property owner and asked where the owl was.  I pointed him in the right direction and he drove up a farm access road into the field.  When he reached the top, which was about 50 yards away, he waved for me to join him.

It was then I saw this owl, for the first time, perched about 80 yards away.

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

It sat on the fence post watching the field for rodents to eat.

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

I got plenty of photographs of the owl perched on the pole so I just stood and talked with the landowner.  Eventually a friend of mine showed up and was also waved to the top of the hill.  The wind picked up, it continued to get colder, and the fog began to lift.  Soon, the owl flew away from us to a perch about 200 yards away.  I thought it was a little closer but after checking Google Earth, I can confirm the 200 yard distance.

We continued to talk about the land, crowds that have been there and other idle chit chat.  Finally the owl spotted a vole and left its perch to catch it.

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

It was still pretty dark but my shutter speed was high enough to catch the action.

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

It flew about 25 yards and sat down to eat.

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

Of course, the vole was devoured in seconds and the owl took flight again.

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

After making a large loop away from us, it returned to the perch 200 yards away.

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

A couple other people came and went while we continued to watch the owl.  Eventually it left its perch again and this time it flew a big circle and flew right towards us.

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

My heart began pumping faster as the owl continued toward us.

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

It reached the original post where the landowner and I found it a few hours earlier, and sat down.

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

It seemed content again simply sitting on the pole.

Snowy OwlSnowy OwlCrawford County, PA

 

About 30 minutes passed, I realized it was after six o'clock and we should head home. 

What a lucky day we had.  I believe we had the good luck because of the weather.  I believe the owl hunted in mid-day because it was fairly dark outside and the rain, cold, and fog kept the people that would normally be there, at home.  All in all, it was a great day!

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Snowy Owl https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/4/a-foggy-day-turned-snowy Wed, 12 Apr 2017 21:04:33 GMT
Wrapping Up Winter With Feathers and Fur https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/4/wrapping-up-winter-with-feathers-and-fur Spring is in the air!  Although the calendar says it's spring, we can't always count on springlike weather.  One thing we can count on is waterfowl migration and preparation for wildlife babies.

On my pursuit of specific wildlife subjects I always manage to find other species of wildlife to photograph and share.  That's what this photo blog entry is all about.  I hope you enjoy the wildlife.

If you visit farm fields during the winter, you may see flocks of little brown birds across the landscape.  When you look closely you will see the yellow face, black mask, and tiny black “horns” of a Horned Lark.

Horned LarkHorned Lark

 

In late February, Elena and I were visiting Presque Isle State Park in Erie, PA when we happened to see this Common Merganser drake sitting on a log in the middle of a channel of water connecting ponds. 

Common MerganserCommon MerganserDrake

 

Soon this Dark-eyed Junco will be heading back to its summer home of the western mountains or Canada.  See you next winter little one!

Dark-eyed JuncoDark-eyed Junco

 

It's always a treat to see an albino White-tailed Deer.  Albinism is a congenital condition defined by the absence of pigment, resulting in an all-white appearance and pink eyes. Animals with albinism tend not to survive long. They have poor eyesight and are easily seen, making them easy prey.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed DeerAlbino

 

One of the treats of visiting Presque Isle State Park from February through May is the presence of a Great Horned Owl nest no more than 15 feet above the ground.  During our February visit, the hen was still sitting in the nest presumably incubating an egg or more.

 

Horned Larks seem to love fields right after the farmer spreads manure in the spring but they also find last years corn cobs a treat too.

Horned LarkHorned Lark

 

You know spring is near when the birds, like this Horned Lark, begin to sing.

Horned LarkHorned Lark

 

We had a long warm spell in February causing some birds to migrate north a little earlier than normal.  This Killdeer probably didn't appreciate the short March deep freeze that gave us a blanket of snow across western Pennsylvania.

KilldeerKilldeer

 

I was watching a local spot that I've seen Barred Owls when this female Red-bellied Woodpecker stopped by to say hello.  By the way, I didn't see any Barred Owls on that day.

Red-bellied WoodpeckerRed-bellied WoodpeckerFemale

 

On a cool, windy day at Pymatuning State Park I found this Red-tailed Hawk peering into the field; undisturbed by my presence.

Red-tailed HawkRed-tailed Hawk

 

Here is another look at this beautiful albino White-tailed Deer.  Sadly, I learned later in March that it was struck and killed by a vehicle.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed DeerAlbino

 

One of the draws of photographing waterfowl and songbirds in the spring is their magnificent colors.  Females and non-breeding males, like these non-breeding Horned Grebe, are also mixed in.

Horned GrebeHorned GrebeNon-Breeding

 

The American Pipit is a bird that I think most of us have never seen or simply ignored its presence.  They winter in the southern United States and Mexico and breed in the far north in and around the Arctic Circle of Canada and Alaska making Pennsylvania a brief stopover.

American PipitAmerican Pipit

 

The Wild Turkey puffs up and spreads its elaborate feathers to attract a mate.

Wild TurkeyWild Turkey

 

Wild TurkeyWild Turkey

 

I was heading home one evening after darkness had began to blanket the landscape.  I found a small herd of doe in a field so I stopped to see if I could photograph any of them.  A slow shutter speed was inappropriate for any movement so I raised the camera sensitivity level (i.e. ISO) and captured this doe intently watching me.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

Well, I hope you enjoyed this variety of wildlife photos I made during the waning days of winter.  I'm working on a couple photographic projects that I will share at a later date.  Okay, I'll give a hint. Owl be happy when I am finally able to share my experiences with you.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) American Pipit Common Merganser Dark-eyed Junco Great Horned Owl Horned Grebe Horned Lark Killdeer Red-bellied Woodpecker Red-tailed Hawk White-tailed Deer Wild Turkey https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/4/wrapping-up-winter-with-feathers-and-fur Fri, 07 Apr 2017 00:02:22 GMT
Late Winter Bald Eagles https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/4/late-winter-bald-eagles The adult Bald Eagle begins fall migration when the northern lakes and rivers freeze over.  Depending on their location, they migrate to the coast, large rivers near dams, or just about anywhere that the water doesn't freeze.  Wind currents play a large role in the direction they take.

We are lucky in western Pennsylvania in that we usually don't have long freezes causing our Bald Eagles to leave.  In fact, we have enough open water in the form of streams and rivers, that many eagles from the north stop here to live until spring.  In recent years, there have been many eagles perched along streams below dam breasts.  If there are public lands or a road nearby, people can also be found photographing them.

This next group of photos were made in Mercer County along a stream where eagles could be seen on a daily basis.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

This adult watches as a nearby juvenile feeds on a fish.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Once they reach this point of maturity, their white head feathers will fill in quickly.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Over the years, I have grown to like juvenile Bald Eagles.  They don't have the impressive white head and tail of an adult but they do have that same intimidating look.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Another juvenile tearing apart a small remaining part of a fish.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

In the afternoon, an eagle can sit in one spot for hours making a photographer wonder if they should move on or wait it out.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

"The Thinking Bridge"  I need one of those once in a while!

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Finally, ready to go!

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Late winter is also when Bald Eagles in western Pennsylvania begin to plan for their nesting season.  Instinctively, they begin to shore up their nests with additional sticks.  I was photographing this nest after an invitation by my friend Jake Dingel.  We watched as this male flew back and forth a few times to bring back sticks.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Off to get one more stick!

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

He's back with another.  It looks like there are plenty of sticks on that nest already.  Maybe eagles are like some people and need to have the biggest house! Ha ha!

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

We watched and this large female nearing adulthood came into the nest.  She had quite a temper.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

As long as she sat there, the male didn't come back.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Bald Eagle https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/4/late-winter-bald-eagles Sat, 01 Apr 2017 23:26:29 GMT
Floppy Wingbeats of the Short-eared Owl https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/3/floppy-wingbeats-of-the-short-eared-owl The Short-eared Owl is an open-country hunter, much unlike forest-dwelling owls. They live in open terrain making them easier to see than most other owls and the best part is, especially for photography, they are often active during daylight hours, especially at dawn and dusk.  They are a very interesting hunter to watch as they fly low over the fields with floppy wingbeats somewhat resembling a giant moth.  The Short-eared Owl is often referred to as a marsh owl.

This is a compilation of my Short-eared Owl photographs made in the early months of 2017.  As usual, I like to toss in some information regarding the habits and habitat all while sharing my experiences.  I hope you enjoy the Short-eared Owl.

We were gaining a couple minutes of daylight with each passing day so I was unsure when the owls would begin to fly.  Most of the time they began to fly around the fields shortly before sunset leaving a short time for photography.  On this one day, with sunset an hour and 15 minutes away, I was very happy to see the owls in the air while the light was still good for photography. 

On a side note, in many of these images you will see cornstalks standing in a tee-pee formation called a "Corn Shock".  This is a practice followed by the Amish community to dry the stocks to be used at a later time for livestock bedding and other purposes.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

Of course, as I sit here in my Pennsylvania home, the Short-eared Owls that I enjoyed photographing in January and February are already on their way north to their preferred nesting grounds.

There are exceptions though.  If the food is good, some may remain to breed.  They nest in slight depressions in the earth or sand lined with grasses, weed stalks and feathers.  They also use bushes or clumps of weeds to hide the nest where the female lays 4-7 eggs.

ShortEardOwlRangeMapShortEardOwlRangeMap

As you can see in the map to the left, Pennsylvania is designated as a winter (non-breeding) location.

Short-eared Owls have a wide global distribution and can travel long distances over vast expanses of ocean. Witnesses have reported seeing these owls descending on ships hundreds of miles from land.

The map to the left is from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.

Aside from its North American range, the map also shows they are year-round residents of South America.  Not included on the map are Eurasia, and many oceanic islands, including Hawaii. 

Here is an interesting note: a Short-eared Owl subspecies, the Hawaiian owl or pueo (pronounced Poo-E-O), is Hawaii's only native owl.  It is said that Pueos may have descended from Alaska ancestors, taking hold in the islands after the first arriving Polynesians brought owl food in the form of the Pacific rat.

When not flying and looking for food, you can find Short-eared Owls sitting on a short perch or on the ground.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

It was such an enjoyable time watching these owls hunt the cleared corn fields.  The goal was to catch them on a close fly-by.  There was only one other photographer watching these birds on this one evening and we were treated with several close encounters.

I followed this bird as it flew past at a distance of approximately 50 yards.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

I followed in my lens and didn't stop shooting even when it disappeared behind a Corn Shock.  I was lucky to have its head framed in a small opening as it flew through the other side.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

Here is the last frame as it continued to fly past me.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

With their broad, rounded wings and short tail, the Short-eared Owl is considered a medium-sized owl.  They look very large in the images of this photo blog but consider this... they are about the same size as the American Crow.  See the size information below from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.

American CrowAmerican Crow

American Crow

Length: 15.7–20.9 in

Wingspan: 33.5–39.4 in

Weight: 11.1–21.9 oz

Short-eared Owl

Length: 13.4–16.9 in

Wingspan: 33.5–40.6 in

Weight: 7.3–16.8 oz

I watched this owl fly around for a little while before it landed on this leaning fence post about 50 yards away.  The photo on the left was made just after the owl fluffed up and "shook the dust off".  It looks very proud in the photo on the right.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

The images I'm sharing with you in this photo blog weren't made in one evening.  This compilation was created over several days in one to two hour photography sessions.  Wildlife isn't very predictable.  Some days the owls began to fly later than other days and on a couple occasions, I didn't see an owl until it was too dark for photography.  One aspect I was grateful for is there were four owls occupying this location.  It was short lived but they gave us many opportunities.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

When Short-eared Owls roost during the day, they tend to practice a communal roosting behavior.  One day, a fellow photographer and I visited the field about 3 in the afternoon.  Standing roughly 80 yards away from the Corn Shocks, we used binoculars to thoroughly search each one for roosting owls.  After finding two inside or on the Corn Shocks, I continued to look on the ground and found the other two all within 25 yards of each other.

You can see in the photos below that they blend in well with their surroundings.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl
Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

This is a cell phone image of the field and Corn Shocks where the owls were roosting.  I don't expect you to be able to see the owls.  That's the point I want to make!  They are very well hidden.

 

Here is a short video that gives you another chance to get a look at the four owls roosting in the corn and on the ground.  It contains a short clip of each owl and yes, it was very windy!

Short-eared Owls

 

Short-eared Owls like large, open areas with low vegetation like prairies, meadows, tundra, marshes, dunes, and agricultural areas.  Their winter habitat is similar, but is more likely to include large open areas within woodlots, stubble fields, fresh and saltwater marshes, weedy fields, dumps, gravel pits, rock quarries, and shrub thickets.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

As you can see in many of the photographs, the Short-eared Owl hunts by flying low over the ground, often hovering before dropping on prey. It is reported that they find prey mostly by sound; sight is secondary.  They are a fairly silent owl but occasionally sounds an emphatic, sneezy bark, "keaw keaw", or a hooting call can be heard.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

The short-eared owl’s ear tufts are small and hard to see, but its ear openings are large and its hearing is excellent. 

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

Although you can't tell, owls have long skinny necks.  Their long, thick feathers make it look short and fat.  Because of that long neck and the fact that a bird's head is only connected by one socket pivot, they can twist that long neck about 270 degrees without moving their shoulders.  I suppose that helps to accommodate for the fact that their eyes are fixed inside their heads.  They cannot roll their eyes around as humans do.  In order to look around, they have to move their entire head.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

During the winter, they favor low-light conditions which is unfortunate for wildlife photographers. It is fun to watch and photograph these owls flying low over the ground, sometimes hovering briefly.  I used a Canon 1DX MKII, Canon 600mm f/4L IS II, and a Canon 1.4 teleconverter III for all of the owl photos this season.  That equipment handles low light very well but it is still a challenge.  The test is to manage shutter speed with ISO (camera sensor sensitivity) for the best image quality possible.  Whenever I get home and delete 900 out of 1000 photos I realize how much improvement I have yet to make.  Of course, we also have the ability to lighten up the image in post-processing using software like Photoshop.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

As I said earlier in this blog, after flying around looking for food, they will sit down on a short perch or on the ground.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

Short-eared are extremely maneuverable in the air, able to drop suddenly to capture prey or climb to avoid pursuers.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

So as they fly around, just what are they looking for?  Mostly rodents.  They feed mainly on voles and mice.  They are also known to eat shrews, rabbits, gophers, small birds, and rarely bats and muskrats.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

They use acute hearing to hunt small mammals and birds.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

This Short-eared caught its dinner and is looking for a place to sit and eat.  Many times, other owls or Northern Harriers will try to steal the food.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

 

Short-eared Owl populations are difficult to estimate but there have been declines in Canada.  The declines are blamed on habitat loss from agriculture, livestock grazing, recreation, and development.

Since Short-eared Owls require large uninterrupted tracts of open grasslands, they are sensitive to habitat loss. There are habitat restoration programs, such as the Conservation and Wetland Reserve Programs, that have shown some success in restoring habitat on private land.

I hope you enjoyed the photographs in this photo blog.  There are many more images in my Short-eared Owl gallery if you would like to see these and many more photos of Short-eared Owls.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) short-eared owl https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/3/floppy-wingbeats-of-the-short-eared-owl Thu, 09 Mar 2017 23:43:58 GMT
Who Can't Find Wildlife in the Winter? https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/2/who-cant-find-wildlife-in-the-winter When winter comes there are certain birds and animals I like to search out and photograph.  Those subjects are usually the focus of their own photo blog.  Sometimes I find what I'm looking for and many times I don't but there is always wildlife found along the way.

In this photo blog I want to share some images I made since Christmas.  I hope you enjoy.

This little Black-capped Chickadee is picking at the fruit of a Staghorn Sumac.

Black-capped ChickadeeBlack-capped Chickadee

 

I made a trip to Erie, PA one day in hopes of finding a Snowy Owl on the beaches.  After the long walk to Gull Point, I was disappointed that there wasn't a Snowy Owl.  On a bright note, I found the largest gull in the world, the Great Black-backed Gull.

Great Black-backed GullGreat Black-backed Gull

 

Ring-necked Pheasants love farming areas mixed with areas of taller vegetation, which they use for cover.  I've been finding this guy pretty regularly.

Ring-necked PheasantRing-necked PheasantMale

 

He was very alert as he fed in the corn field.

Ring-necked PheasantRing-necked PheasantMale

 

This video is almost six minutes long.  So, what in the world is so exciting about watching a Ring-necked Pheasant for six minutes?  You'll have to watch and see!  I'll give a hint: He must have heard another male pheasant in the adjacent brushy field. 

Keep in mind throughout this video that I didn't know which way he was going to run so sometimes I couldn't keep up with him. It's comical to watch anyway.  Also, I didn't have my external microphone with me so the grinding noise you will hear is the focusing mechanism of the camera's lens.  One of my pet peeves about shooting video with a DSLR.

Ring-necked Pheasant

 

I found this Bald Eagle pair perched nearly 300 yards away.  It's amazing the detail, even at great distances, you can capture when there is good light.

Bald EagleBald Eagle

 

The following image doesn't have the best composition but I have to share it because it's my first ever photograph of a White-crowned Sparrow.

White-crowned SparrowWhite-crowned Sparrow

 

Horned Lark are my nemesis bird to photograph.  I find large flocks of them feeding in farm fields during the winter.  They especially like it when the farmers spread manure.  Of course, they fly when I approach.  I'll sit in my vehicle waiting for their return and they seldom do.  I'm just not having much luck with this bird.  One day, they did come close but they put themselves between me and the sun.  Not the best way to photograph anything but hey, I'll take it.

Horned LarkHorned Lark

 

You can see the little tuft of feathers on its head that makes it look like it has horns.  Hence, Horned Lark!

Horned LarkHorned Lark

 

I'm going to finish this photo blog with a Sandhill Crane show.  I made all of the following photographs of two separate flocks in one evening.  As I processed the images, I discovered I had several unique images so I'm including them all here for you to see.

Sandhill CraneSandhill Crane

 

This photo was made during a little fluffing of the feathers.

Sandhill CraneSandhill Crane

 

A lone walker slips away from the flock.

Sandhill CraneSandhill Crane

 

These two were walking together but feeding on their own sides of the imaginary line.

Sandhill CraneSandhill Crane

 

As I watched this small gathering of cranes, another flock flew past and landed on the other side of the hill.  They got the attention of all but one of the group in front of me.

Sandhill CraneSandhill Crane

 

A little preening never hurt anyone.

Sandhill CraneSandhill Crane

 

This Sandhill Crane stood with its legs crossed for several minutes.

Sandhill CraneSandhill Crane

 

This image is one of my favorites.

Sandhill CraneSandhill Crane

 

Just like clockwork, as the sun is setting the Sandhill Crane becomes restless and take off to wherever they are going to roost that night.

Sandhill CraneSandhill Crane

 

I hope you enjoyed this photo blog.  I am currently photographing for a photo blog documenting Short-eared Owls.  I'm focusing on their stay in Pennsylvania and hopefully some other information that may be new to you.

Until next time,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Bald Eagle Black-capped Chickadee Great Black-backed Gull Horned Lark Ring-necked Pheasant Sandhill Crane White-crowned Sparrow https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/2/who-cant-find-wildlife-in-the-winter Fri, 10 Feb 2017 00:46:15 GMT
Conowingo Eagles: An Experience Worth Sharing https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/1/conowingo-eagles-an-experience-worth-sharing Some experiences are just worth sharing.  Actually, when I find something exciting, I like to include others in hopes they feel the same way.  After Tom Dorsey and I spent a few days photographing Bald Eagles at Conowingo Dam in Darlington, MD, we discussed a return trip as we drove home.  Thanksgiving was only a few days away and Tom and his wife Jeanne already decided to go back the following weekend.  My wife, Elena, said since the weather is nice, we should go too.  Looking back, it's a good thing we did because we haven't had very good traveling weather since.

This is the second blog documenting my 2016 trips to photograph Bald Eagles at Conowingo Dam.  If you are interested in reading the first blog, "November Bald Eagles at Conowingo Dam", published on January 6th, you can read it here.

This visit was a jam-packed one-night stay in Maryland.  We wanted to show our wives as much as we could while logging some quality time along the river.

The trip east began with a threat of snow but we didn't see any until the Allegheny Mountains of central Pennsylvania.  You just never know what kind of weather you will find crossing the mountains. Snow and fog forced the turnpike speed to be reduced to 45 mph and we were very happy to reach the other side.  Once we had the mountains in our rear view mirror, the sun came out.  I was glad because we had one stop planned before reaching the dam that afternoon.

There had been a rare Tropical Kingbird seen around the marina in Peach Bottom, PA.  I've never seen one so I had to at least look.  When we arrived at the marina there wasn't a sole in sight.  I drove along the railroad tracks and there were no trespassing signs everywhere.  I thought we'd see a few birders but there was nobody around.  So much for seeing my first Tropical Kingbird.

We arrived at the dam and set up along the water.  We kept in touch with Tom and Jeanne along the way and they were about 1/2 hour behind us.  Our Bald Eagle weekend was about to begin!

Here is a juvenile with a little sunlight on its tail feathers.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Double-crested Cormorants are plentiful at the dam.  It's interesting to watch them dive for food because you never know what they will come up with.

Double-crested CormorantDouble-crested CormorantConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Elena frequently joins me on photography outings and has seen many Bald Eagles but it was exciting for me to introduce her to her first fishing event.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Look at the size of those feet!

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

If you read my previous blog, you will remember the grist mill Tom and I visited last week in Susquehanna State Park?  We decided to go back and explore the grounds.  Here, Elena was enjoying a view of the Susquehanna River behind me. Susquehanna State ParkSusquehanna State ParkElena Gomola
Susquehanna State Park
Havre De Grace, MD

 

This area has so much history and we could spend days exploring it all. Rock Run LandingRock Run LandingSusquehanna State Park
Havre De Grace, MD

 

Below, Tom is discussing the old bridge piers with Jeanne.  The remnants of the piers, mentioned in the signpost in the photo above, are shown below.

Susquehanna State ParkSusquehanna State ParkTom & Jeanne Dorsey
Susquehanna State Park
Havre De Grace, MD
Remains of Bridge PiersRemains of Bridge PiersSusquehanna State Park
Havre De Grace, MD


There is a connection to some Pennsylvania history as well.  A man, Confederate Brigadier-General James J. Archer, born in this house, was captured in Gettysburg, PA during the American Civil War.

Rock Run HouseRock Run HouseSusquehanna State Park
Havre De Grace, MD

 

This is an upper view of the grist mill showing the canal where water once flowed to power the water wheel. 1794 Grist Mill1794 Grist MillSusquehanna State Park
Havre De Grace, MD

 

Water traveled through the upper canal, entered this pipe, and spilled over the wheel. 1794 Grist Mill1794 Grist MillSusquehanna State Park
Havre De Grace, MD

 

Tom was an excellent tour director explaining how the water powered the grist mill's grinding mechanism. 1794 Grist Mill1794 Grist MillSusquehanna State Park
Havre De Grace, MD

 

Of course, once evening came we had to take our wives to the Port House Grill in North East, MD for the best crab cakes we've ever had.  Once again, if you haven't read my previous blog November Bald Eagles at Conowingo Dam, you're not getting the whole experience.

__________

 

Sleeping in and casual breakfasts don't happen when you are on a wildlife themed photography trip.  I'm glad Elena is okay with that because we scraped up whatever we could for breakfast and arrived at the dam before sunrise.  Not long after it was light enough to make decent photographs, this adult eagle swooped down in front of us to make a catch.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Although the golden hue of the harsh morning sun makes photography difficult, it also adds an element that is indescribable. Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

With tail feathers tinged by the sunrise, this juvenile Bald Eagle goes in for the catch. Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

After making a successful catch, survival instincts kicked in and a juvenile began a chase.  Once again, the harsh morning light presents problems with exposure but I like the realism of this scene.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

There is a lot of acreage in front of you at Conowingo Dam so when a hunting eagle circles close, you need to keep your camera lens focused at all times. Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

This eagle was pretty far out in the river when I saw him dropping to make a catch.  It was one of the few times they fished towards me so I photographed the sequence despite the distance and the shadows.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Although you can't see the fish, this eagle is still dripping water after making a catch. Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

When an eagle makes a catch and other eagles begin to chase, it usually ends in one of three ways.  The eagle either drops the fish, has the fish stolen in a fight, or gets away to enjoy its meal.  After escaping the chase of several eagles, I continued to follow this eagle as it flew across the face of the dam.  Suddenly, a resident Peregrine Falcon swooped in on the much larger Bald Eagle.  

Bald Eagle Chased by Peregrine FalconBald Eagle Chased by Peregrine FalconConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Although the falcon is much faster then the eagle, it quickly gave up its chase and allowed the eagle to pass.

Bald Eagle Chased by Peregrine FalconBald Eagle Chased by Peregrine FalconConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

You've seen my photos of an eagle pulling a fish from the water in a big splash and also photos with the fish getting tossed into the air on a rare miss.  In order to give you an idea of the force the eagle's talons enter the water and grab the fish, take a look at the next photo.

The power of this juvenile's legs and talons grabbed this fish in a sweeping motion and the momentum carried the fish all the way up into its tail feathers.  Now that's power!

Bald Eagle MomentumBald Eagle MomentumConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Once in the air, it looks like this juvenile eagle has two kinds of tails.  One feather and one fin. Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Here is another chase for a fish that happened all the way across the river.  Most photographs to do not look good being cropped from that distance but sometimes the camera grabs perfect focus and allows a decent image to be created. Bald Eagles Chasing After Catching a FishBald Eagles Chasing After Catching a FishConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

The shoreline was extra crowded on this day.  Visiting the dam on Thanksgiving weekend seemed to be an idea shared by many. Photographers at Conowingo DamPhotographers at Conowingo Dam

 

One of the smaller bird species you'll find at the dam are Rock Pigeons.  They seem to take off and land in flocks providing a show for this juvenile Bald Eagle sitting on a wall.

Bald Eagle (immature) Watches Flock of PigeonsBald Eagle (immature) Watches Flock of PigeonsConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Once again, on the other side of the river, an adult eagle was chasing a fish carrying juvenile.  This time they had an audience such as this Great Blue Heron.   Bald Eagles Chasing After Catching a Fish with Great Blue HeronBald Eagles Chasing After Catching a Fish with Great Blue HeronConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Here is good light on a Double-crested Cormorant.  When springtime comes, the eye-color of the cormorant will be a brilliant aquamarine that sparkles like jewels, and a mouth that is bright blue on the inside.

Double-crested CormorantDouble-crested CormorantConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Eagles that fly over our heads are heading to the trees behind the lineup of photographers.  They perch there during the day and will also go there to eat.  It is a nice opportunity to photograph the Bald Eagle while sitting on a limb but I usually don't go up there because, in my limited time at the dam, I don't want to miss a fishing event or a fight above the water. Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Here is a juvenile gliding on the wind. Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Some people like to have the dam structure in the background to have the element of nature and industry in one photograph but I try to keep it all natural if I can.  However, this eagle spotted a fish and made an abrupt turn in great light and I couldn't pass it up. Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

I think I'll finish off this photo blog with three flight shots.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

  Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

That was my final trip to Conowingo Dam for 2016.  We had a great time and Elena and Jeanne definitely want to go back. There is only one thing I'd change.  I will never again drive the Pennsylvania Turnpike on Thanksgiving weekend.  So much traffic and so many accidents really made the trip home a long one.

If you are interested in seeing these and other Bald Eagle photos I've made over the last several years, be sure to check out the Bald Eagle gallery in the Birds of Prey section of my website.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Bald Eagle Conowingo Dam Darlington, MD Double-crested Cormorant Havre De Grace, MD North East, MD Port Deposit, MD Susquehanna State Park Union Hotel https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/1/conowingo-eagles-an-experience-worth-sharing Sun, 15 Jan 2017 23:19:12 GMT
November Bald Eagles at Conowingo Dam https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/1/november-bald-eagles-at-conowingo-dam Just how many photographs of Bald Eagles does one need?  As many as you can get is the answer.  Maybe it's an obsession with getting the "perfect" photo.  Maybe that "perfect" photo doesn't exist because no matter how good a photo is, you will always try to get a better one.

November rolled around once again just like it always does and my photography efforts were focused on the White-tailed Deer rut, which was in full swing.  Lingering in the back of my mind was my upcoming trip to Conowingo Dam in Darlington, Maryland to photograph Bald Eagles with my good friend Tom Dorsey.  This was our second year visiting the Dam and I have such a great time, I hope it's the second of many.

Instead of going into detail about the dam and why the eagles are so attracted to it, I'm just going to direct you to my 2015 photo blog "World Famous Conowingo Eagles", where that information is covered thoroughly.

This year, Tom and I planned three days of shooting along the shore of the Susquehanna River a short distance below the powerful turbines of the dam.  However, the phrase, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry” seems fitting for this weekend.  A winter storm moved a little quicker than expected and cut our trip short by one day.

In this photo blog, I hope to share our experiences in this beautiful part of our country as we visited local restaurants, historic structures in Susquehanna State Park, and of course, photographed Bald Eagles at Conowingo Dam.

We spent a few late afternoon hours at the dam on our travel day.  We didn't have a lot of action to photograph but during that time, we met up with one of Tom's internet acquaintances.  Before the day was over we became good friends with Fernando "Fern" Trujillo, one of the administrators for the Facebook group "Conowingo Wildlife Photographers".  We all enjoyed dinner and shared photography stories at Woody's Crab House in North East, MD.

The next morning is when we got serious.

One of the coolest sights is to watch an eagle hunting for fish.  They may circle low or they may circle high but when they spot their prey, they drop their legs like the landing gear of an airplane and glide in to make their catch.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

But that's not always the case.  Sometimes you can be following a bird in your lens when all of a sudden, it disappears.  They can go into a complete dive and it happens so fast I have a hard time keeping up.  I have to admit, keeping up with a diving Bald Eagle would take a lot of practice.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Photographing the catch is one of the fun parts of photographing the eagles.  Just like an airplane, birds usually take off and land into the wind so the direction they fish depends on which way the wind is blowing.  We all hope for the eagle to be close and flying towards us when they make the catch but it doesn't always happen that way.  The photographers usually have to settle for profile photos like in the following series.  Take note of the water ripples reflecting onto the underside of the eagle as it approaches the water.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Eagles are great fishermen but hey, none of God's creations are perfect. 

Bald Eagle Drops Its CatchBald Eagle Drops Its CatchConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

This is the perfect time to talk about the light at Conowingo Dam.  It can be very harsh at times and if you are shooting before noon, you can be fairly certain that half of your subject will be lit up and the other half will be in the dark.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

There are visitors from all over the world seen at the dam November through January.  I even saw one from out of this world.

Generation X PoodleGeneration X Poodle

 

All joking aside, Tom and I like to set up along the water because we like the perspective and we have good conversation with the people shooting along side of us. 

Photographers at Conowingo DamPhotographers at Conowingo Dam

 

Here are a few more Bald Eagle photos before we break for lunch.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

If you are a reader of my blogs you already know that it takes five years for a Bald Eagle to develop its signature white head and tail. The eagle in the next photo is probably a four year old.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

When an eagle picks a fish from the water it's not a delicate grab.  This immature eagle went in for the catch, missed, and flipped it in the air.

Bald Eagle Missing FishBald Eagle Missing FishConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

It looks like this eagle was shot out of a canon.  But I shot it with a Canon.  Get it?  Ha ha! That's okay if you don't, camera people will.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Ah, finally time for lunch.  Same as last year, we had to go to the Union Hotel in nearby Port Deposit, MD.  Great food and a lot of history surrounds you.

Union HotelUnion HotelPort Deposit, MD

 

Once mid-afternoon arrives, the sun begins to fall below the hillside behind you and most of the photography is best when the bird is in the air.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

It's not even 3:00 and we are standing in the shade.  Space along the river was limited so Tom had to set up on a little island that I quickly dubbed "Dorsey Island".

Tom Dorsey on Dorsey IslandTom Dorsey on Dorsey IslandConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Once the shade touched the far shoreline we decided to pack up and leave.  Before our trip, Tom was researching some historical areas that we could visit in the waning light of the day.  We drove about 10 miles to the Susquehanna State Park and a 1700’s grist mill.  The park’s dense woodlands are on the eastern edge of the Cerulean Warbler’s range making it a popular place for birders in the spring. 

1794 Grist Mill1794 Grist MillSusquehanna State Park
Havre De Grace, MD

 

There is a trail running along the Susquehanna River that connects to the Conowingo Dam parking lot.  When you are looking west from along the river, you can see Conowingo Dam in the distance.

Susquehanna River Below Conowingo DamSusquehanna River Below Conowingo DamSusquehanna State Park
Havre De Grace, MD

Maryland's #1 Crab CakeMaryland's #1 Crab CakePort House Grill in North East, MD

I have to give a plug for a restaurant in North East, MD.  We ate dinner at the Port House Grill which has award winning crab cakes two years running.  All crab meat; no filler.  I posted the photo of my meal to the left to show off the large, sweet lumps of Maryland crab meat.

We arrived at the dam the next morning before sunrise.  It was very foggy and when the sun finally came up, you couldn’t look down river because of the bright yellow glow.  I think this boatload of fishermen was a popular subject of many of the photographers along the river that morning.

Early Morning FishermenEarly Morning FishermenConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

One aspect of photography that you really need to practice at Conowingo Dam is to use manual camera settings.  If the bird is flying below the horizon, you can get away with aperture priority or shutter priority but you can’t make that guarantee because the birds fly high and low giving the photographer an ever-changing background, playing havoc with the camera sensor.

Every now and then I would verify that I am still on the correct settings by photographing the gray sunlit wall of the dam and checking the histogram.  If not correct, I’d change the settings and repeat.  It just so happens I was in the process of making changes when an event all photographers are waiting for happened right in front of me.

When an eagle catches a fish, one or more eagles in the immediate area begin to chase the eagle with the fish.  If they catch up, the fish may be dropped or we may get to see a scuffle between the eagles when the others try to steal the fish.  That occurred within 100 yards in front of me and I caught it with my camera.  Now for the bad news!  Because I was making exposure changes, all of the images were overexposed.  I managed to salvage them in Photoshop but a properly exposed photo would have produced a better overall image.

This is a six photo series of the steal attempt ending with a chase.  Click on the small photos to see them larger.

Bald Eagle Fish Steal AttemptBald Eagle Fish Steal AttemptConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD Bald Eagle Fish Steal AttemptBald Eagle Fish Steal AttemptConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald Eagle Fish Steal AttemptBald Eagle Fish Steal AttemptConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald Eagle Fish Steal AttemptBald Eagle Fish Steal AttemptConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD Bald Eagle Fish Steal AttemptBald Eagle Fish Steal AttemptConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald Eagle Fish Steal AttemptBald Eagle Fish Steal AttemptConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

While photographing the elk rut last September, Tom introduced me to Mark Hendricks who resides in the Baltimore area.  Mark drove up to see us and spend the day until we had to leave to beat the incoming winter storm.  Mark is a professor, professional speaker, author, and photographer and is a true pleasure to hang out with. Good FriendsGood FriendsDan Gomola, Mark Hendricks, and Tom Dorsey
Conowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

The weather was so beautiful that we didn't want to leave and the wind began to change directions in our favor allowing eagles to fish toward us.  Just as we decided to pack up our gear the following eagle dropped out of nowhere and picked a fish out of the water.

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Bald EagleBald EagleConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Even though it was a sunny day with temperatures above 70, the winter storm was beginning across northern Pennsylvania.

One Week After Super MoonOne Week After Super MoonConowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

Luckily, there was a walking club at the dam that day having a walking event and they had a booth selling snacks, hot dogs, brats, and drinks.  After lunch we bid farewell to Mark and headed for northern Pennsylvania.

Good FriendsGood FriendsMark Hendricks and Tom Dorsey
Conowingo Dam, Darlington, MD

 

The outside temperature dropped 50 degrees between Darlington, MD and DuBois, PA and was accompanied by strong winds.  Snow was falling but we made it home just fine.

By the way, there is one more Conowingo Dam Bald Eagle blog coming soon.  After checking the weather and mulling it over during the Thanksgiving break,  my wife Elena and I met up with Tom and his wife Jeanne the following weekend for more Maryland fun and photographing Bald Eagles.

View the next Conowingo Dam Bald Eagle blog now by clicking here.

Until next time,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Bald Eagle Conowingo Dam Darlington, MD Havre De Grace, MD North East, MD Port Deposit, MD Susquehanna State Park Union Hotel https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2017/1/november-bald-eagles-at-conowingo-dam Fri, 06 Jan 2017 22:12:43 GMT
Wrapping Up Autumn With Feathers and Fur https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/12/wrapping-up-autumn-with-feathers-and-fur The 2016 Winter solstice, in the Northern Hemisphere, will be at 5:44 AM on Wednesday, December 21st.  To many people, that means winter is just beginning.  To a wildlife photographer, it also means we’re going to have a couple additional minutes of sunlight added to each day. 

Those couple minutes add up quickly and soon I’ll be able to photograph after work again and not be forced to wait until the weekend.  With the 2016 autumn coming to an end, I thought I better share some of the photographs I’ve made in the last couple months.  Once again, it’s kind of a catch-all photo blog because wildlife is too special to not be shared.

When the Crab Apple is ripe in October my backyard is flooded with birds taking their turn to pick the tart treat.  There are a lot of American Robins but I really like photographing the Cedar Waxwings.

Cedar WaxwingCedar Waxwing

 

One day this year we had about 100 little beauties in the trees.  They took turns going to the Crab Apple tree.

Cedar WaxwingCedar Waxwing

 

Here are a couple waxwings sitting on a rock near my backyard fish pond.

Cedar WaxwingCedar Waxwing

 

Time for a drink.

Cedar WaxwingCedar Waxwing

 

Here is a short video compilation of the activity in my back yard.

Backyard BirdsCedar Waxwing, American Robin, and Dark-eyed Junco

 

One blustery, cold morning I was at Moraine State Park when I saw a small flock of Hooded Mergansers floating near the shoreline.  I slowly made my way toward the shore while keeping trees between me and the ducks. Hooded Mergansers seem to be frightened very easily so I wasn't surprised when they all took off out over the lake.  I walked along the woods to a picnic table where I sat up on the edge of the bench a couple feet from the shore.  As I sat there watching a few gulls fishing in the distance, this male Hooded Merganser swam out of the wooded shoreline and headed toward me.

Hooded MerganserHooded MerganserMale

 

Thrush's are usually a difficult bird to find but this fall I saw several Hermit Thrush.  This one was found in a wild grape vine.

Hermit ThrushHermit Thrush

 

Hermit Thrush enjoying the fruits of the wild. Hermit ThrushHermit Thrush

 

Most of the time I see Gray Squirrels busy doing something from finding nuts to breaking open nuts to burying nuts in the ground.  I seldom see them at rest.

Eastern Gray SquirrelEastern Gray Squirrel

 

The Brown Creeper climbs trees from bottom to top, in a circular motion, looking for insects in small crevices.  If you think about it, nature is amazing.  A nuthatch does the same thing except in the opposite direction.  They circle the tree from top to bottom.  Between the two, they find insects that the other misses because of their direction.

Brown CreeperBrown Creeper

 

The Blue Jay is one of the loudest and most boisterous birds in the forest.  This one was making his presence known.

Blue JayBlue Jay

 

The Field Sparrow has to be one of the cutest little birds in the sparrow family.

Field SparrowField Sparrow

 

We have to wait until autumn to find a White-throated Sparrow.  When they come, they come in large flocks.

White-throated SparrowWhite-throated Sparrow

 

Even though the Yellow-rumped Warbler loses most of its beautiful colors during the summer, there are still enough left for an easy identification.

Yellow-rumped WarblerYellow-rumped Warbler

 

I was watching a small herd of White-tailed Deer when this doe's attention was diverted by a nearby noise.  She began to flag her tail before running over the hill.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

Here is a small family of Sandhill Crane.  Young Sandhill Crane have dark eyes and as they get older, their eyes become yellow-orange to scarlet.

Sandhill CraneSandhill Crane

 

A youngster is leading the flock on this tight takeoff.

Sandhill CraneSandhill Crane

 

The Ring-necked Pheasant is not native to Pennsylvania although they are a popular game bird.  It's always a treat to find one that doesn't run off into the dense weeds.

Ring-necked PheasantRing-necked PheasantMale

 

Wish I had this crowing male on video but I don't.  Maybe next time.

Ring-necked PheasantRing-necked PheasantMale

 

There was a second male with a longer tail but he stayed hidden most of the time.

Ring-necked PheasantRing-necked PheasantMale

 

I hope you enjoyed viewing the photos in this blog posting as much as I enjoyed making them.

For the second year in a row, I was fortunate to spend a few days photographing America’s national bird, the majestic Bald Eagle, during migration at Conowingo Dam in Darlington, Maryland.  I am working on a photo blog to share my experiences and photographs so keep checking back, watch for an email or Facebook notification after it’s published. 

If you would like to be added to my email list for Photo Blog notifications, send me an email through my contact page and I will add you.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) Blue Jay Brown Creeper Cedar Waxwing Eastern Gray Squirrel Field Sparrow Hermit Thrush Hooded Merganser Ring-necked Pheasant Sandhill Crane White-tailed Deer White-throated Sparrow Yellow-rumped Warbler https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/12/wrapping-up-autumn-with-feathers-and-fur Tue, 20 Dec 2016 22:04:30 GMT
White-tailed Deer: The Autumn Pursuit https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/12/white-tailed-deer-the-autumn-pursuit September and early October was a whirlwind for me photographing rutting elk.  If it weren’t for the 2.5 hour drive each way to the Pennsylvania elk range, it wouldn’t have been so hectic.  Shortly after the rutting period of the American Elk ends, the White-tailed Deer doe (female deer) enters her estrus cycle and their world turns into chaos with every buck (male deer) within sniffing distance vying for breeding rights.

Rut activity of the White-tailed Deer is more difficult to photograph because of their fear of humans and their rut is relatively short compared to the American Elk.

I began photographing this year in mid-October and pursued deer until the end of November and the beginning of the Pennsylvania rifle season.  I hope you enjoy the photography.

Many doe are still accompanied by their offspring from earlier in the year.  Some attempts are still being made to nurse but the doe seems to push them aside and the fawns are feeding on plants, fruits, acorns, and other nutty goodies when they are available.  Soon they will need to rely on whatever food is available such as fallen leaves, twigs, bushes, evergreens, and other woody plants to nourish them through the winter.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

Most of the images in this photo blog were made with a Canon 1DX MKII camera body and either a Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS or Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II lens.  I needed the low light capabilities of that equipment to photograph this buck as it was nearing complete darkness.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

I was positioned on the lower end of a hillside that had a well-worn trail etched into the forest floor when a doe came walking along.  Just then, I saw her pursuer in a thicket about 10 yards behind.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

The doe ignored me and continued to walk along the trail.  Just then, the buck stepped out of the thicket and into plain view.  He is a 6-point with a truly impressive spread.  A huge charge of testosterone during the rut period can make a bucks neck swell up to 50% of its normal size.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

This buck was rushing down a hillside when he stopped briefly, illuminated perfectly by the evening sun.

Notice the dark spot on the inside of his rear leg?  That is called the tarsal gland and there is one on the inside of both hind legs.  Smell typically comes into play when deer scent-check each other.  Normally, identification is determined by smelling each others' tarsal glands.  During mating, the dark, stained tufts of stiff hair reek with odors, besides urine added for sexual excitement.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

This guy was in pursuit of a couple does when he crossed my path.  The does stopped to feed on nearby acorns so, hiding himself behind the trees, he stopped to check me out.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

I found this buck on a hillside meadow accompanied by about seven doe and their fawns.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

As all the doe continued to feed in the meadow, he became more interested in me.  He slowly walked toward me in a curious posture.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

As he walked a little closer, he held his hoof high.  He wasn’t alerted enough by my presence to flip his tail up or to give me a foot stomp.  A deer communicates with other deer in many ways but both genders will stomp the ground to alert other deer, or attempt to lure an intruder into exposing itself.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

Most of the time, especially when the weather is warm, I don’t see many deer until the sun begins to set, leaving little time for photography.  This buck, holding his rack high, was following a few doe around a meadow. White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

After becoming wary of my presence, he headed toward the woods.  He only paused in response to me yelling “hey buck, hey buck”.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

Not all journeys into the field searching for a whitetail buck are successful.  Many times the deer are frightened and run away or they hide unseen in a deep thicket.  On the other hand, one might find a little buck that is cooperative, such as this guy illuminated by the setting sun.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

With light diminishing quickly, I probably shouldn't have been photographing anything at this time.  I saw this buck crossing a field and just as he entered the woods I whistled to get his attention.  He stopped and turned.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

I was sitting one evening just before dark watching a small herd of doe and spotless fawns.  I was hoping a big buck would walk over the crest of the hill but that didn't happen.  I did see a tender moment between one of the doe and her fawn.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

I was drinking coffee in my living room one Saturday morning when our two Shelties began to bark at something in our backyard.  This buck, who is frequently photographed on my backyard trail cam, came in to feed on our Crabapple tree.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

This is a late November buck.  With no doe to pursue, he is a little more cautious and is keeping himself protected behind branches.  I was hoping he would move into the open but he didn’t.  Instead, he turned and ran into an adjacent field.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

With the rut over the bucks are a little harder to find.  Couple that with the fact that rifle deer season is now half over, all of the deer are very cautious.  Here is a doe that paused to see what my next move was going to be.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

Female White-tailed Deer will fight to protect their fawns or a food source.  I'm not really sure if these two were fighting or playing.  They broke away a couple times and came back to each other.  In either case, I wish my shutter speed was a little faster to stop the blur.

White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

Well, that’s it for this year’s White-tailed Deer rut.  I wish I had photographs of more obvious rutting activity like rubs, scrapes, scent marking, or fighting but I wasn’t able to find it this year.  That’s okay, maybe I will be able to make up for it next year.  I hope you enjoyed the experiences I was able to share.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) White-tailed Deer https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/12/white-tailed-deer-the-autumn-pursuit Mon, 05 Dec 2016 00:12:29 GMT
Bull Elk: Moving the Herd https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/10/bull-elk-moving-the-herd After taking a week away from photographing the elk herd in Benezette, I was getting anxious to go back.  I decided one more trip was in order and after seeing a lot of activity the previous weekend, I knew exactly what I wanted to capture on this day.  On Monday, 10/3/2016, I awoke at 3:00 a.m. in order to make it to Benezete before daybreak.  I ran into some fog on the way but once again, the valley in Benezette was clear.

October is when the elk rut slows to a stop and the bulls are magically friends again but it hasn't reached that point as of October 3rd.  Bulls were still gathering small herds and bugling back and forth.  In this final photo blog of the 2016 Pennsylvania elk rut, I'd like to show how the bull controls his herd when it's time to leave the meadow and enter the woods for the day.

In the last three blogs I talked about photographing the animals until they went into the woods.  My goal on this day was to document that process.  There were two bulls and two separate herds for me to photograph in the meadow this morning.  The bull in the next photo had a small herd of nine elk cows and calves.

PA Elk (Oct, 2016)PA Elk (Oct, 2016)

 

However, the bull in the next photo felt that his herd wasn't large enough and promptly came in and stole the other bull's cows.  Remember, it is October 3rd and these bulls are probably tired and sore from the action of the last few weeks.  Team that with malnourishment and you will have bulls that aren't interested in fighting.

PA Elk (Oct, 2016)PA Elk (Oct, 2016)

 

The first bull left the meadow only to return later and gather a portion of his herd back.  That leads me into this first video lasting about eight minutes.  It begins with a couple young bulls calmly crossing the creek.  Afterwards, I watched the bull with the large herd chase some cows around while answering bugles from the bull that ran about 1/4 mile away to the other end of the meadows. You will see the bull across the field attempt to corner a cow but she runs back to her herd.  Turn your volume up to listen to the calves talking in the crowd.  One calf in particular is very vocal and at one point, it sounds like it is mimicking the large bull's bugle.  I have to smile when I hear it.  Then, you get to see how the bull moves his herd in the direction he wants them to go.  Obeying every command, they eventually cross the creek and enter Elk State Forest.  I personally think this is one of the better compilations I made so I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Please be patient after pressing the icon to begin.  Your internet connection determines how fast it loads.

American ElkBenezette, PA
10/03/2016

 

Now that you've seen the video here are a few stills of that herd. 

I was positioned in the creek 80 to 100 yards downstream from the crossing site.  Even at that distance, a look like this makes a person wonder about your safety.

PA Elk (Oct, 2016)PA Elk (Oct, 2016)

 

One look is all I got before he paused for a drink and then attended to his herd.

PA Elk (Oct, 2016)PA Elk (Oct, 2016)

 

These two cows and a calf paused in the middle of the creek to take some time to groom the calf.

PA Elk (Oct, 2016)PA Elk (Oct, 2016)

 

So, remember the bull that ran to the other side of the field?  He returned and picked up a couple cows and a young spike on the way.  This short video shows him taking his herd in the same direction as the previous bull.

American ElkBenezette, PA
10/03/2016

 

One of his cows was the piebald that we watched the previous weekend.

PA Elk (Oct, 2016)PA Elk (Oct, 2016)Piebald Elk Cow

 

Here she is in the Goldenrod on her way to the creek.

PA Elk (Oct, 2016)PA Elk (Oct, 2016)Piebald Elk Cow

 

It is typical to find a young spike in a bull's herd.  They aren't a threat and are basically ignored.

PA Elk (Oct, 2016)PA Elk (Oct, 2016)

 

Finally, the big guy slowly crossed before heading into the forest.

PA Elk (Oct, 2016)PA Elk (Oct, 2016)

 

 

PA Elk (Oct, 2016)PA Elk (Oct, 2016)

 

This was the fifth and final photo blog documenting my experiences during the 2016 elk rut in Pennsylvania.  I hope you enjoyed them and felt the thrill of the bugle through my lens.

In case you missed any of the previous four, here is a link to view them.

9/15/2016 - Sights and Sounds of the PA Elk Rut

9/24/2016 - The Beginning of an Elk Country Weekend

9/25/2016 - Dominant Bull and Frustrated Wannabes

9/26/2016 - The Meadows Are Full of Elk

Until next time,

Dan

 

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) American Elk Benezette Elk Rut Pennsylvania Elk https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/10/bull-elk-moving-the-herd Mon, 31 Oct 2016 21:38:41 GMT
The Meadows Are Full of Elk https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/10/the-meadows-are-full-of-elk The morning of Monday, 9/26/2016, was once again chilly and foggy.  Since it was our final day of our stay in Elk Country and the hotel breakfast seemed to be served a little earlier than schedule, Elena and I decided to sit down and have a breakfast today.   We ate quickly because we didn't want to miss anything down in the meadows we've been visiting each morning.

We arrived in the valley and was happy to find there was little fog, much unlike the surrounding mountains.  You will see in the following photographs that the fog will move in and out before the morning is over.

Having made photographs and video of the same herd the past couple of days, I decided to spend a little time photographing some of the unique individuals we've been seeing.  I found this young guy and his handlebar rack very interesting. 

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

It didn't take long before the fog began to roll into the meadow.  These two young bulls ventured off alone and it was nice to photograph the interaction between them.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

Even though they are not "players" during the rut, the youngsters go through the motions just like the older bulls.  I don't have video but it was comical hearing this young guy try his hand at bugling.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

We've been watching this piebald cow and her two calves all weekend.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)Piebald Elk Cow

 

This guy came from a distant field chasing in one cow which you can witness in the first video after this photo.  The dominant bull of this herd made sure that he didn't get any closer.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

Since this is our last morning of this visit I, once again, want to share with you the activity of a typical morning of the rut.  This six minute video contains clips over a two and a half hour period.  You will see the clear air become foggy and finally lift again.  Occasionally, a bull tries to enter the field but is promptly chased away by the dominant bull, and you even get to witness some of the downtime when they finally get to lay down or simply eat.

American ElkBenezette, PA
9/26/2016

 

About mid-morning it got pretty quiet in the meadow but we could still hear distant bugling so Elena and I went in search of that bull.  About a half a mile away we found the following bull with a small herd. 

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

He paced the field keeping his cows together.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

There were still bugles in the distance and he answered every one of them.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

I thought she was very pretty surrounded by Goldenrod.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

A few hundred yards away in the back of the field this bull had accumulated a small harem for himself.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

Between this bull, the one in the front of the field, and the bull we were watching earlier in the morning, there was some three-way bugling across the valley.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

This video shows the two bulls working their harems before heading into the woods for the day.  At the end of the video you will see the first bull of the morning rubbing and thrashing a small tree before making his way down to see where the other herds were.

American ElkBenezette, PA
9/26/2016

 

Here is the early morning bull crossing into the new field before disappearing into the woods.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

With all the herds entering the woods, it marked the end of our morning.  Heavy rain was forecast for the afternoon so Elena and I decided to go home and get some rest before our work week began on Tuesday.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) American Elk Benezette Elk Rut Pennsylvania Elk https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/10/the-meadows-are-full-of-elk Thu, 27 Oct 2016 00:48:49 GMT
Dominant Bull Elk and Frustrated Wannabes https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/10/dominant-bull-elk-and-frustrated-wannabes Elena and I woke to our 5 o'clock wake-up call on this chilly Sunday morning, the 25th of September.  Usually, when we go out of town, we like to eat a nice breakfast at a local diner but we don't get to do that during the rut.  It's a quick breakfast sandwich at GetGo and off we go down the "Caledonia shortcut" to Benezette.  We decided since the action was so good on Saturday morning, we would go to the same location.  Plus, since the location is near the water and I don't have many photos of elk crossing water, I was hoping I'd see that too.

It was 39 degrees and foggy when we reached our destination.  The sun hadn't come up yet when we met up with Tom Dorsey and made our way through the woods to the back meadow.  A few of our friends were already in place watching a growing herd of elk, a dominant bull, and a few smaller "satellite" bulls.  Satellite bulls get their nickname because they always seem to be orbiting the field similar to a satellite orbiting earth.

This bull came from a far field in response to the bugles of the dominant bull.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

When you’re in the field watching and documenting the rut one can easily distinguish the various levels of experience in herding.  The larger, middle aged bulls are clearly in charge.  They are studs!  Competitors are usually nearby but they know they can’t compete with a mature bull’s deep bugle or growth of their antlers.  The mature bull easily gathers his cows along with spike bulls and calves.

If you look around you will usually find one or two frustrated bulls waiting on the sidelines.  Occasionally, the dominant bull will be distracted and one of the wannabes will manage to trap a cow.  They are seldom successful as the cow will run to the rest of the herd or the dominant bull will notice and quickly approach leaving the smaller bull feeling helpless.

This bull was slowly approaching the large herd in an adjacent meadow while pausing occasionally to announce his presence with a bugle.
PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

The rut is nothing more than a bunch of bull elk, jacked up on testosterone, sizing up each others bugles and size of their antlers all while trying to impress the ladies.  Sometimes they square off in a dominance fight but that is not their first intentions.  Bulls can seriously injure each other, lock up antlers, or gore one another and be left to die.  Smaller bulls seem to be aware of those possibilities and stay out of delicate situations.  When the big guys throw a pose and a bugle like the one in the photo below, I understand why the smaller bulls keep their distance.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

The cool, crisp Benezette air condenses his breaths into consistent puffs of water vapor.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

Even with all the commotion of the rut going on all around them, a cow still makes time to nurture their calves and reassure their safety.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

During the height of the rut, the bull elk has a massive thickness to his body, a physique very different than the same bull in July and August.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

In this video, I'd like to show you how a morning is spent in the life of an elk during the rut.  The dominant bull elk will spare no energy keeping his herd together.  Other, usually smaller, bulls will stand at the woodland edge waiting for an opportunity to steal a cow or two but usually get caught and, unwilling to fight the big guy, they retreat frustrated.  So this video will be full of bulls chasing cows, bulls chasing smaller bulls, elk cow and calves grazing, and a lot of bugling so turn up your speaker volume.  In a couple instances, when the dominant bull turns his attention to another bull, I placed video of the intruding bull in a picture-in-picture format for the few seconds that he reacted.

During all three videos in this photo blog you may hear some shutter clicks from other people's cameras and an occasional conversation between fellow photographers.  We tend to help each other and keep each other informed of other activity.  This video is over six minutes long so, depending on your internet connection, it could take a few seconds before it begins to play.

American ElkBenezette, PA
9/25/2016

 

Here is the "King of the Harem" checking on one of his cows.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)


Fog comes and goes in the valley.  The photo below was made as a haze began to cover the valley floor.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

The next photo is a piebald cow with her calf.  Piebaldness occurs due to a genetic variation.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)Piebald Elk Cow

 

Satellite bulls will bugle too.  It seems like the only thing they accomplish is to get the attention of the dominant bull and then chased back into the woods or into the next field.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

The bulls get all the attention of wildlife photographers but I also like to photograph the females too.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

As the morning continues, the elk continue to do more of the same.  We have the dominant bull keeping his herd together and displaying a few attempts at mating.  As he paces the meadow making sure his herd doesn't stray too far he does it while keeping an eye on the collared, satellite bull who is still attempting to steal cows from the herd.  Here is another video; a continuation of our morning in a meadow during the elk rut.

American ElkBenezette, PA
9/25/2016

 

The action began to slow down just like the ending of that last video.  Elena and I spent the late morning and early afternoon visiting local gift shops and wineries only to end up at the hotel for a much needed nap before heading to the Elk Country Visitor's Center for the evening.

I wanted to check out the action at the visitor's center because the bulls up there have been fighting a lot.  That evening, we were there until it was too dark to see and didn't see a fight.  These bulls were on their best behavior while I was around.  The bull in the photo below is known as "Tippy" because one antler is much larger than the other and he walks with a head tilt.  I bet he's really happy in March when those things fall off.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

The bulls at the visitor's center are usually too far away for good photography but we hung around that evening until the sun began to set.  As we were walking back to the parking lot we found another bull and a small harem much closer.  Below are a few photos of him as darkness fell.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

Once again, the camera makes the scene look brighter than it really was.  For those who understand camera settings, my shutter speed was 1/30th of a second and iso was set at 2000.  We could barely see this bull moving around with the naked eye.  You can see the last glimmer of light edging his antlers, back, and rear end.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

Here is a short video of this bull roaming the hilltop and responding to distant bugling.

American ElkBenezette, PA
9/25/2016

 

I'll finish this blog with a few more photos from the darkening fields of the visitor's center.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

He probably continued to bugle well into the night but this was the last photo I could make of him on this day.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

The evening ended on a high at the visitor's center and continued in town at the Benezette Hotel.  Elena and I met up with Tom Dorsey and longtime Facebook friend Bill Potter and his wife Merilee.  It was great to finally meet Bill in person.  Few people on Facebook like to critique the photos we make.  Tom and I appreciate the honesty of a good critique and Bill and I sometimes get into deep conversations about our photographs and why we made them the way we did.  We talk about the feeling they create and that is something I enjoy.

After an evening of great travel and photography conversation, Elena and I headed the other way on the "Caledonia shortcut" to St. Mary's.  It was another late night in Elk Country and we finally made it back to the hotel looking forward to another five hours of sleep.

See you tomorrow,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) American Elk Benezette Elk County Visitors Center Elk Rut Pennsylvania Elk https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/10/dominant-bull-elk-and-frustrated-wannabes Fri, 21 Oct 2016 20:15:55 GMT
The Beginning of an Elk Country Weekend https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/10/the-beginning-of-an-elk-country-weekend September 24th was the first day of a full three days in Elk Country for my wife, Elena, and I.  We arrived in St. Mary's on the evening of Friday, September 23rd and made sure we had a good night sleep for an early morning departure for Benezette.  We reached our first stop at 5:30 a.m. which was to attend a biannual gathering of our Facebook group "Benezette Elk Camera Club".  We grabbed coffee and donuts, talked with a few friends and met some Facebook friends for the first time.   6:30 came fast and the sun was beginning to glow in the eastern sky so everyone said their "see ya laters" and headed in all directions to where they thought they would see elk.

It was still dark so Elena and I used a flashlight while walking through the woods to distant meadows.  Once there, we and several other people with the same idea, began to set up.  As soon as there was enough light, I began to make photographs.  You see, one never knows how long an elk herd will stay in the fields so you have to act quickly.  My beginning camera sensitivity, called iso, on my Canon 1DX MK II was set at 3200 which is about 8 to 16 times higher than normal daytime shooting.  That was the minimum setting I could use while keeping a decent shutter speed.

The camera brightens the scene a lot but this was my first look at the herd this morning.  If you look closely, you can see the dominant bull standing in the woods in the left side of the scene.

 

This first morning started out really good.  We got to watch several bulls jostling for position to intrude on the herd that was obviously following a dominant bull.  This bull spent most of the morning "on the sidelines" because he knew he couldn't compete with the leader of this herd.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

Bull Elk generally lose weight during the rut because they burn a lot of energy and are too busy to eat.  Here's another look at the same bull as he takes time to eat.  I guess when you don't have your own harem, you get to enjoy breakfast.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

I saw this young guy getting ready to cross the creek so I ran into position to photograph the crossing.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

I keep mentioning the dominant bull and you got a glimpse of him in the opening photo but I've kept him a secret long enough.  This next photo is the bull that was "ruling the roost" so to speak.  Although others tried, no other bull could shake loose a cow for themselves with this big guy watching. PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

This video contains two scenes.  The first scene is the smaller bull making a move to enter the herd and the second scene is the dominant bull chasing the intruder into the woods.  Unfortunately, they are not close to each other during the chase so you will only see the dominant bull.

American ElkBenezette, PA
9/24/2016

 

After the herd left the meadow, Elena and I hooked up with Tom Dorsey, Jim "Muck" McClelland, and new friends and Baltimore residents, Mark and Carolina Hendricks, to go porcupine hunting.  After a couple hours of hunting, we went back to the picnic without any photos. 

We ate lunch, BS'd with a lot of the club members, and even won a White-tailed Deer fleece blanket in the Chinese auction.  About 2:00 Elena and I went to the hotel for a few zzz's before the elk became active again.  Sorry, club members, I didn't take any photos at the picnic.  I was too busy talking.  Go figure!

 


 

Benezette was really crowded on this Saturday and the evening wasn't panning out to be very good for elk viewing.  About an hour before dark, Elena and I drove east on Route 555 to the Hick's Run viewing area.  We met a friendly couple in the parking lot who gave a tip on a large bull a couple miles back toward Benezette.  Thanks to new Facebook friend Sarah Glatfelter, we knew where to stop to get the next two photos.

This bull had a small herd of about six cows and they were all his.  We watched the "Rt. 555 Bull" until it got too dark to photograph and we didn't see any challengers.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

Here is another view of the "Rt. 555 Bull".

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

Before going back to the hotel for the evening, we visited the campground of Tom and Jeanne Dorsey.  It was a great evening with a great group of friends.  While we were there, Muck taught me how to photograph the stars.  Below is my first attempt of shooting the Milky Way Galaxy.  Not too bad for a beginner.

Milky Way GalaxyMilky Way GalaxyWinslow Hill, Benezette, PA

 

Cheers to a great group of people!

Campfire on Winslow HillCampfire on Winslow HillTom Dorsey Campsite

 

It was very late when we got back to the Cobblestone Inn in St. Mary's.  Wake-up call in five hours.

Goodnight,

Dan

 

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) American Elk Benezette Elk Rut Milky Way Galaxy Pennsylvania Elk https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/10/the-beginning-of-an-elk-country-weekend Sun, 16 Oct 2016 19:50:53 GMT
Sights and Sounds of the PA Elk Rut https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/10/sights-and-sounds-of-the-pa-elk-rut September and early October marks the mating season of the American Elk.  The rutting call of bulls, called a bugle, is heard echoing through the Pennsylvania hills from just before dusk to dawn.  The bugle of the bull elk is a distinctive sound that begins deep and becomes a high pitched squeal before ending in a series of grunts.  Hearing your first bugle is an experience you will never forget and one that will leave you wanting more.

This year, I was able to spend five days in the Benezette, PA area to photograph the rut activity of the American Elk.  I made two day trips alone and my wife, Elena, and I had a nice three day stay in nearby St. Mary's.  Over those five days I logged a lot of time in front of elk and have numerous photographs and a few videos to share.  I'm going to use five separate blogs to tell the story of the 2016 American Elk rut in Pennsylvania with this one being the first.

9/14/2016 - While preparing for a day trip to Benezette I checked the weather forecast and saw they were calling for heavy fog overnight.  Benezette is usually foggy in the morning so that was not a surprise.  Because of the forecast, I decided to get a good night sleep and go later in the morning.

9/15/2016 - Temperatures reached the mid-80's on this day making it less likely to see many elk come out to feed before the sunset.  However, about 5:15 in the afternoon, I spotted a large bull elk laying in the grass near the edge of the woods.  I parked my vehicle and joined a small group of people already watching.  As soon as he turned his head, I recognized the U-Bull.  He has been dubbed U-Bull because of the U-shape of his rack.  Beginning at the base, the shafts point out before lifting up giving his rack a much wider U-shape.

He was resting at the edge of the woods but at one point an elk cow exited the woods and stood by him.  He seemed to be very interested.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

After the cow approached the bull and retreated a couple more times, U-Bull gave us is first bugle of the evening.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

Another reason to look forward to the rut is meeting up with people that you see only once a year or you've met on Facebook and share the same interest of viewing the elk.  I watched U-Bull for about 30 minutes when my friend Dave Anderson arrived from the Pittsburgh area.  We stood there and "shot the bull", no pun intended, while waiting for something interesting to happen. 

There were bugles in the distance which got the attention of U-Bull.  He stood and prepared for an evening of assembling cows and calves into his meadow.

Bull elk often dig holes in the ground, in which they urinate, lay down, and roll their body.  The urine soaks into their hair and gives them a distinct smell which attracts cows.   Elk can mark themselves by spraying urine on their bodies from an erect penis.  That type of scent-marking behavior in elk is known as "thrash-urination".  That's exactly what U-Bull is doing in the photo below.  You can see the spray along his neck.

 

After a while, the U-bull climbed the hill ahead of us and disappeared into the woods. 

We knew he was going up the hill to a food plot so we walked up a path on the perimeter of the field.  By now we were beginning to lose photography light fast.  The surrounding mountains were blocking sun rays several minutes ahead of sunset.  When we arrived at the top of the field, we found U-Bull thrashing a small pine tree on the other side.

Elk rub trees and shrubs like this to deposit oils on their antlers, turning them from bone white to the dark, burnt umber color seen in the next photo.  Notice the tips remain somewhat white because they don't make direct contact with the sap.

In my own personal observation, I noticed that while a bull is doing this, he will stop several times to lick the sap coming from the shredded bark.  I'm not sure why they do that.  Maybe they just like the taste.  It looks like he's really enjoying this rub.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

As he exited the woods, he stood in the shadows, reluctant to enter the warmth of the sun.  Even at this early stage of the rut, U-Bull already has three broken tines and walks with a limp caused by an injured left, rear leg.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

Even though they were a quarter mile apart, taunting continued between U-Bull and the bull in an adjacent field.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

Here is a video of U-Bull as he entered the food plot, thrashed the small evergreen tree, and kept his herd together while another bull answered his bugles.  The video is about 5 minutes so the load time will depend on your internet connection.

American ElkBenezette, PA
9/15/2016

 

As the meadow became too dark to photograph, Dave and I decided to walk to the adjacent field to find the bull that has been taunting U-Bull all evening.  The next field over was a little brighter so we were able to photograph him.  The bull we found is a 10X8, not the most tines ever seen on a bull in Benezette but it is the most tines that I have ever seen.

PA Elk (Sept, 2016)PA Elk (Sept, 2016)

 

At the close of the evening friends Tom and Jeanne Dorsey arrived.  There we are standing along the edge of the road in darkness talking about the rut that was just getting underway when I realized I had a two and a half hour drive home.  I was enjoying the evening but I got in my vehicle and drove home.

The day started slowly but finished pretty well which got me excited about the next couple of weeks.  As the air cooled over the next 10 days, the rut really began to heat up. 

Thanks for looking,

Dan

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dwgomola@zoominternet.net (Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography) American Elk Benezette Elk Rut Pennsylvania Elk https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/10/sights-and-sounds-of-the-pa-elk-rut Wed, 12 Oct 2016 21:45:05 GMT
Autumn Birds of Pennsylvania https://www.dangomola.com/blog/2016/10/autumn-birds-of-pennsylvania I'm sitting here on a dark, rainy autumn morning wishing it was brighter outside because I'm missing a Saturday morning of bird photography during the fall migration.  Sure, spring migration is pretty exciting because of all the colorful little birds flitting around on their journey to their summer breeding grounds but fall migration can be really good too. 

Most of the birds have non-breeding plumage making them a challenge to identify.  Some birds, like the Hooded Warbler, don't change much at all.  Other birds, like the Scarlet Tanager, become almost unrecognizable.  Most birds, however, have the same colors and markings but they are somewhat faded.

An example of the latter is a Prairie Warbler who lost most of his black identification marks.

Praire WarblerPraire Warbler

 

Another challenge in the fall is identifying juvenile birds which can look much different than the adults.  Below is a juvenile Eastern Towhee which I'm guessing is a young male based on the black wing coloration.

Eastern TowheeEastern TowheeImmature Male

 

Another young bird I found was this Brown Thrasher.

Brown ThrasherBrown ThrasherJuvenile

 

I had a lot of discussion with birders, most more knowledgeable than I, about the identification of this bird.  It's definitely a flycatcher.  The question was if it is a Willow Flycatcher or an Alder Flycatcher.  I was told it is impossible to differentiate between the two unless you hear their song.  Well, hearing the song still wouldn't help me.  I chose to identify this bird as a Willow Flycatcher because that is the one most likely found in our area right now.

Willow FlycatcherWillow Flycatcher

 

The next photo is a female or immature male Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

Rose-breasted GrosbeakRose-breasted GrosbeakFemale or Immature Male

 

This male Indigo Bunting is still singing.

Indigo BuntingIndigo BuntingMale

 

Some birds' feathers are so smooth you can't tell where one begins and the other ends.  That's not an issue with this White-eyed Vireo.

White-eyed VireoWhite-eyed Vireo

 

This is the time of the year that we find American Goldfinch pulling seeds from the coneflower flower heads.  Some males have began to change.  Before winter, the males will molt and take on the olive-green and gray colors of the female.

American GoldfinchAmerican GoldfinchMale

 

I got the attention of a Blue-headed Vireo at the edge of a forest.

Blue-headed Vireo